Syria peace talks end with ceasefire communique but rebel support is lacking

Syria peace talks end with ceasefire communique but rebel support is lacking
The vague trilateral communique issued by Syria peace talks sponsors Russia, Turkey and Iran may not even be enough to prolong the patchwork ceasefire
By bne IntelliNews January 24, 2017

The Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan concluded on January 24 with Russia, Turkey and Iran stating that they would establish a trilateral mechanism to observe and ensure compliance with the ceasefire.

The cessation of hostilities can as yet only be described as something like a patchwork ceasefire and it was notable that neither the Damascus government nor the opposition groups that agreed to take part in the Astana negotiations - which got off to a rocky start with insults and barbs on January 23 - put out statements in support of the general communiqué issued by the three nations that sponsored the talks.

Moscow, Ankara and Tehran conceded that as yet there was no military solution to the bloody six-year-old civil war in sight. In a statement they added that they were devising exact ways to ensure the ceasefire endured. They intended, they said, to "observe and ensure full compliance with the ceasefire, prevent any provocation and determine all modalities".

The three countries also said that they were encouraged by the willingness of the armed opposition groups to participate in a further round of negotiations to be held in Geneva on February 8.

The head of the Syrian opposition delegation to the talks, Mohammed Alloush, responded that he had reservations about the trilateral communique and added that the rebels had put forward a separate ceasefire proposal.

It appears that a key sticking point to progressing the talks is the rebels’ aversion to Iran’s participation in arranging a permanent ceasefire. Alloush said that the rebels would never allow Iran, which along with Tehran-backed Shi’ite militias supports Syrian government forces, to have a say in Syria's future.

Also on January 24, Turkey said it would not surrender the northern Syrian town of al-Bab to Syria's government after it drove out terrorist group ISIS. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu that the operation was necessary to protect Turkey's border. Al-Bab has been under siege since December.

Syrian forces and rebels, meanwhile, clashed in Wadi Barada, near Damascus, according to UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The area contains a major spring from which water supplies for millions of inhabitants of the capital are drawn. The government is trying to recapture the territory.

Fourteen representatives of armed opposition groups attended the Astana talks along with Syrian government delegates.

It was the alliance forged between Russia and Turkey – achieved despite the fact that Moscow supports Assad while Ankara backs rebel groups – that led to the opposition suffering a brutal, crushing defeat in Syria's second city of Aleppo in December. This game-changer pushed them to the negotiating table. Like Russia, Iran is committed to keeping Assad in power. Turkey now says his departure is no longer a pre-condition to starting political talks.

New American President Donald Trump is yet to detail a Syria policy, but his administration will probably focus on defeating ISIS, rather than pushing out Assad. The US ambassador to Astana attended the talks as an observer.