Russia and the United States have orchestrated a ceasefire in Syria. As of September 12, there is to be a seven-day cessation of violence in order for Syrians (excluding those in ISIS controlled territory) to receive access to humanitarian aid and, provided that the ceasefire succeeds, for the two superpowers to negotiate an unprecedented joint bombing campaign (both have thus far operated independently) directed against the more radical elements of the conflict. Every forty-eight hours the truce holds, it is renewed.
The First Two Days (September 12th – 14th)
Both Assad and the Syrian Opposition fighters are under pressure by Russia and the US, respectively, to adhere to the truce. During the first two days, results were widely seen as promising. There was a sharp reduction of violence, though news outlets had reported “sporadic” and “isolated” incidents where opposition fighters have fired upon Assad’s forces. According to Russian sources, such skirmishes have occurred twenty-three times in spite of Assad’s good faith. Nevertheless, casualties between the warring parties were kept to an absolute minimum with the regime putting a halt on their controversial use of airstrikes which often put noncombatants in the crosshairs.
The Syrian people are enjoying their brief respite from the tragedy of war. One, Abo Haitham, noted that vibrancy is returning to previously hushed, war-torn streets “now” he says “people are coming and going, children are playing in the playground. But the downside is that the markets are empty” Through bittersweet words, an anonymous aid worker perfectly captured the temporal nature of the ceasefire and life in the war-torn country in general:
“They manage their life without thinking what will happen next. They take each day individually. They get used to not thinking about the future: We see this day, we are going to work, we are going to the cafe, to meet some friends or some relatives. Just for today.”
All Eyes on Aleppo (September 12th – 16th)
Unfortunately, though the Syrian people are enjoying the temporary lull in violence, the citizens of Aleppo have not received the humanitarian aid that they were promised. Assad’s government has cut off the opposition-occupied Eastern portion of the city, over 250,000 noncombatants, from the rest of the world. They have not received medicine, foodstuff, or fuel since July. According to the Washington Post, the “forty truck convoy […] has enough food rations to feed about 40,000 people for a month”, yet they remain on the Syrian-Turkish border; it has been four days since the ceasefire was implemented. The aid is subject to the painfully slow bureaucratic process of the Assad regime whose government’s approval is necessary for its distribution. In his disgust and frustration, one UN official decried the regime’s callousness:
“Can well-fed grown men please stop putting political, bureaucratic and procedural roadblocks for brave humanitarian workers that are willing to go to serve women, children, wounded civilians in besieged and crossfire areas?”
The only route to Eastern, Rebel-Occupied Aleppo is through the Castello Road, a hotly contested government-controlled supply route. While the ceasefire organized between Russia and the United States held that Castello Road is to be a “demilitarized zone”, it is the site of considerable tension. Due to mutual suspicion, both parties are unwilling to withdraw from the road and allow humanitarian access in fear that one would use such dire circumstances to take advantage of the other, according to the Syrian government and Russian officials there have been incidents of rebels firing on Assad’s forces. Russian soldiers have joined Assad’s forces in their occupation of the Costello Road; Russian officials are critiquing the United States for their lack of control over the Syrian Opposition – however, as of September 16th both sides have breached the ceasefire forty-six times, thus far there have only been three fatalities.
While the ceasefire has certainly contributed to a tremendous reduction in violence, it is unfortunate that even under such conditions civilians remain caught in the crosshairs between the Syrian Government and the Opposition. Secretary Kerry maintains that the distribution of aid is integral to the ceasefire and if such continues to be hampered there would be no discussion on a cooperative bombing campaign; one Russian Lieutenant-General by the name of Viktor Poznikhir has suggested that the ceasefire be extended for seventy-two more hours. Until the citizens of Aleppo receive their much needed aid, the Syrian people are sure to hold their collective breaths, praying for their much elusive peace.
By ADAM WOOD / Contributing Writer