Will Syria see a political solution in 2018?

Will Syria see a political solution in 2018?
From Al Jazeera - January 4, 2018

After nearly seven years of conflict, the war in Syria has all but subsided.

The fighting and bloodshed that once spanned the entirety of the Arab nation have been relegated to a few areas, raising the question of whether the country will see at least some semblance of stability in 2018.

With the help of Russia and Iran, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad transformedthe fight against armed opposition groups aiming to overthrow the government into a "war against terrorism".

A relentless Russian bombing campaign, and the deployment of tens of thousands of Iranian-backed troops to aid Assad's men, slowly dealt the armed oppositionone blow after another.

The rise of al-Qaeda linked groups and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) allowed the Syrian government to turn the narrative of a revolution against the government into a battle against "extremist" groups.

But while violence has significantly decreased and is expected to continue to do so in 2018, political analysts say the country is unlikely to see a meaningful, political solution to the conflict any time soon.

The lack of a political solution, they say, will mean that violence will continue.

"The Syrian government seems to be winning, in a slow, painful, imperfect sort of way. Large areas of the country will remain beyond the control of Damascus for a long time still, and violence could ebb and flow for years," Aron Lund, a fellow with The Century Foundation think-tank, told Al Jazeera.

"The various peace processes may succeed in tuning down the violence in various ways, but a genuine political transition seems off the table. It probably always was," he said.

Where is fighting taking place and why?

In May 2017, Russia, Iran, and Turkey - which supports the armed opposition - agreed to implement a plan for "de-escalation zones".The plan was aimed at halting fighting and offering safety to civilians in those areas.

The areas consist of Idlib province, East Ghouta, northern Homs province and the country's south.

But the Syrian government and its allies have not abided by the agreement and continue to target all areas included in the deal apart from the south.

The most severe fighting is now focused in three main areas:

- Eastern Ghouta - a rebel-held enclave near the government-controlled capital Damascus

- The Idlib-Hama region in northwest Syria

- The country's far eastern region along the Euphrates where remnants of ISIL (also known as ISIS) continue to operate

For the Syrian government, the proximity of Eastern Ghouta to the capital Damascus makes it a key target.

The area is under the control of groups loyal to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose conglomeration of armed brigades made up of Syrian army defectors and ordinary civilians, which receive financial and logistical support from the United States, Turkey, and several Gulf countries.

Since 2013, the government has maintained a suffocating siege on the area in an effort to weaken the rebel groups and continues to shell it despite the so-called de-escalation agreement.

In Idlib province, however, a former al-Qaeda affiliated group, known as Hay'et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), dominates.

While HTS is centred mainly in the city, some 40 armed groups affiliated with the FSA also have control in other areas of the province, according toOmar Kouch, a Syrian political analyst based in Turkey.

Kouch estimates that HTS men number around 10,000, while FSA-linked fighters amount to some 30,000.

"The pretext that the Syrian government is using to attack Idlib is that there is HTS. But Idlib is very important to the regime and to Russia because Turkey also wants to deploy its forces there based on the de-escalation agreement," Kouch told Al Jazeera from Istanbul.

"Thus, the agreement is not being respected - shelling on Idlib did not stop for a single day."

Is a political solution imminent?

Future scenarios


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