The Geneva II conference took over headlines on Syria, with testy statements at Wednesday’s opening session giving way to indirect talks between the Assad and opposition delegations through United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
By Monday, the discussions had brought a limited agreement on evacuation of women and children from besieged sections of Homs, Syria’s 3rd-largest city. However, the prospect of other arrangements — such as release of prisoners and those who have been kidnapped — appeared distant, and both sides drew line against a political settlement: the regime delegation said “terrorism” rather than a transitional government authority must be the priority, while the opposition said President Assad must leave power.
While the delegations maneuvered in Geneva, the Syrian military stepped up its airstrikes, particularly in and near Aleppo and Damascus. More than 20 bombs were dropped on Aleppo on a single day, while more than 10 landed in the Damascus suburb of Darayya on another. For three days in a row, the death toll topped 100.
The aerial bombardment did not appear to be doing more than holding insurgents at bay, however. There was no sign of regime progress near the capital to complement the local cease-fires they have reached in some Damascus suburbs. To the west and north of Aleppo, reports from the ground pointed to insurgent successes, countering any regime progress east of the city.
Meanwhile, the insurgency’s fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham entered its fourth week with no prospect of resolution. Each side claimed victories, but the outcome is a patchwork, with insurgents dominant in Idlib Province in the northwest and in the east of Syria, ISIS holding Raqqa city, and both sides claiming parts of Aleppo Province.
Geneva II may bring small successes such as agreements for local evacuations, aid delieries, or even cease-fires, but there is no prospect of any broader settlement. For that to occur, each side would have to recognize the legitimacy of the other: the Assad delegation has said the opposition is a foreign-controlled puppet representing only a fraction of the Syrian people, and the opposition has maintained its line that President Assad has forfeited his right to govern.
The most important calculus will continue to be on the battlefield. Until one side gains a clear advantage, there is no prospect that the other will capitulate. For another week, the prospect of that “resolution” is non-existent.
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