The Yomiuri Shimbun
Diplomatic efforts must be expedited to maintain truce in war-torn Syria
The ceasefire between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s administration and rebel groups, generally observed by both sides for more than two months, is on the brink of collapse.
Fighting has resumed in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and elsewhere. Rebel groups are increasingly angered by the government, saying that a number of civilians had been killed by Syrian airstrikes, which they say is a violation of the truce. It is reported that food and medical supplies are not reaching the needed because of obstructive activities.
The Assad administration has refuted these arguments, saying the bombings were justifiable attacks on terrorist groups such as the Nusra Front not covered by the ceasefire.
Under the circumstances, the possibility of seeing an end to the five-year civil war could become even more remote. Relevant countries must expedite their diplomatic efforts to mediate between the two parties.
Supported by Russian airstrikes, the Assad administration has a military advantage over the opposition groups. Spurred on by this, the government forcibly held parliamentary elections in Damascus and elsewhere. Assad may have sought to emphasize the ruling party’s overwhelming victory, thereby keeping his administration in place. Given that votes were cast only in government-held parts of the country, however, he cannot gain legitimacy.
The Assad administration and the rebel groups are to promote peace talks and establish a caretaker government. This is to be followed by a presidential election and other steps to launch a new administration. This is a road map for ending the civil war. The U.N. Security Council also has adopted a resolution calling for the implementation of this process.
Ceasefire key to weaken ISIL
It is extremely disturbing that the negotiators from both sides have been unable to come up with any compromise regarding calls for Assad’s immediate resignation. In the wake of the renewed fighting, the rebel groups have announced to suspend their participation in the peace talks. We feel they lack the will to end the civil war.
The U.N. special envoy for Syria, who presides over the talks, had good reason to urge the United States, Russia and other related nations to hold an urgent ministerial-level meeting.
It is also worrying to note that, after withdrawing some of its airborne units from Syria, Russia has continued its intervention in the country, including the deployment of artillery.
A Russian warplane recently flew dangerously close to a U.S. military aircraft over the Baltic Sea and another Russian plane came extremely close to a U.S. destroyer in the same sea — both incidents only heightening tensions in the area. This will only add to U.S. mistrust of Russia.
It is essential for Russia to exert influence on the Assad administration while the United States does so on the opposition groups, thereby urging the two sides to maintain the ceasefire and make progress in the peace talks.
It should not be forgotten that achieving peace in Syria would mark a step toward weakening the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group and overcoming the refugee problem.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently decided to send an additional 250 commandos and other U.S. service members to Syria. He also met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to try to mend soured ties between their countries. These moves should be used to shore up the Syrian rebels in their fight against ISIL, while also facilitating cooperative relations among pertinent nations.
In top-level talks, five nations — the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy — have confirmed their coordination in response to acts of terrorism and dealing with the refugee issue. These problems will also be addressed as important themes at the Ise-Shima Group of Seven summit meeting later this month. Japan will be required to demonstrate leadership in this respect.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 2, 2016)