The Cable

The Cease-Fire in Syria Is, For Now, Back On

Failed ceasefires have become a common occurrence in Syria. The latest deal could be the last best hope for civilians and embattled rebels — if it holds.

aleppo-crop

On Wednesday, Syrian rebels said a cease-fire deal to let fighters and civilians flee the Aleppo battleground was back on — just hours after it collapsed.

A spokesman for rebel group Ahrar al-Sham said civilians and wounded people would begin leaving the besieged city on Thursday morning under the terms of the new, new deal.

The initial cease-fire deal, which Russian officials earlier said would have allowed rebels to leave Aleppo and provided humanitarian “arrangements” to civilians, fell apart Wednesday morning. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, shelling and airstrikes prevented the evacuations from even beginning.

“The clashes are violent and bombardment is very heavy… it seems as though [the cease-fire] is finished,” said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Observatory’s monitoring group.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, reportedly accused Tuesday’s cease-fire agreement of seeking to “keep the terrorists and save them.” He blamed the West for pressuring Russia to enact the cease-fire just when it looked like the rebels were nearing defeat.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly was also underscoring the return of violence by predicting the rebel resistance in Aleppo would fall in two to three days.

Instead, Aleppo will, at least as of now, be evacuated.

The on-again, off-again, then on-again cease-fire first stumbled just one day after Russian ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin and a Syrian rebel spokesman said a deal was reached. Their announcement followed a Monday wrecking campaign in Aleppo by Syrian forces, backed by their Russian and Iranian supporters, reducing rebel-held territory to a small sliver. According to the United Nations, 82 civilians were executed.

But at least there was an attempt for peace — even if it condemned rebels in their east Aleppo stronghold to a near certain loss, five and a half years after the Syrian civil war began.

It’s far from the first time an internationally brokered cease-fire in Syria has disintegrated. In February, the United States and Russia brokered a partial cease-fire in an effort to end the war and establish a transitional government. It lasted six weeks before it fell apart, due to numerous violations by Russia, Assad’s regime, and the loose coalition of rebel forces.

In September, the United States again tried — and failed — to broker another Syrian truce, hoping to enlist Russian airstrikes against the Islamic State and not against rebel forces or civilians. Instead, Moscow and Damascus unleashed an all-out attack on Aleppo and its embattled population. The United States and its Western allies traded sharp diplomatic barbs with Russia at the United Nations, but the rhetorical spats did nothing to stop Moscow and the Syrian government’s military campaign.

Hurling insults across U.N. negotiating tables didn’t curry any favor with Russia, which vetoed new cease-fire proposals by the United States six times in the U.N. Security Council.

It is still to be seen if this latest cease-fire can hold long enough to allow rebels and civilians to finally leave Aleppo.

Photo credit: GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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