Syrian Peace Talks End in Extension of Ceasefire

(GPA) Astana – The peace talks between Russia, Syria, Iran, Turkey and leaders of various rebel groups have come to an end in Kazakhstan, and despite the negotiators saying it was a success, it seems more like business as usual.

The biggest agreement to come out of the peace talks is the creation a trilateral body including Russia, Turkey and Iran to monitor a ceasefire negotiated between Turkey and Russia at the end of last year. The terms of the new ceasefire monitoring body still haven’t been fully worked out but it is expected to begin its work in February.

The Syrian government and the leaders of ‘the opposition’ groups invited both did not sign on to the final document. The point of contention for both sides seems to be the role of Iran and their ally Hezbollah’s role in fighting those trying to topple the Assad government.

The opposition attributes most of the ceasefire violations to Hezbollah despite it constantly being shown that rebels – even those included in the ceasefire – frequently violated the terms or were hit due to their proximity to proscribed terrorist groups such as Jahbat Fateh al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra). The relationship to groups like Fateh al-Sham are probably what made both Iranian and Syrian negotiators hesitant, as the both consider many of these groups terrorists or terrorist collaborators.

While some speculate an increasingly friendly relationship growing between Ankara and Moscow it seems that the Turks main reason for being at the talks was their relationships to the rebel groups that they support. Even though Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the talks were a “diplomatic success,” he continues to speak of a major shift in the government of Syria to allow “all factions” representation.

Syrian opposition groups such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) seem to feel the same way and after a year of losing ground to Assad backed by Syria, they seem to hope Russia’s will ease off their military domination of the groups. FSA representative Issam Alrayyes said as much when he told reporters “We hope this time that Russia is taking a different role.”

Russia did seem to change their tone to a more diplomatic one, even conceding that the Syrian government was probably responsible for some ceasefire violations for the first time publicly. Russia was also reportedly frustrated by their Iranian and Syrian partners who kept referring to the opposition as terrorists, despite the fact that Russia was using this same language just as recently as a few weeks ago.

Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic Flickr: Christiaan Triebert

Despite all this quarreling and what doesn’t seem like much progress in terms of new strategies on the ground in Syria, Moscow considers the new agreements as a good framework going into upcoming UN backed peace talks in Geneva. Nobody can be sure if this embodiment of the ceasefire will work and only time will tell if the end of the Syrian crisis may be finally approaching.

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