The latest Syrian peace initiative proposed by Russia is the formation of local reconciliation committees in the de-escalation zones, raising hope that the war might finally approach its promised political solution. The idea is that the armed opposition would join together with legitimate government representatives in these territories in order to deal with the wide array of issues related to the planned conflict settlement in the country. It's inferred that this could also relate to the specifics of the new constitution and upcoming elections as mandated by UNSC Resolution 2254 from December 2015. Since both sides are officially no longer fighting one another within the de-escalation zones, this suggestion makes sense, and it appears to be the only peaceful way forward for the country, though there are still some in the opposition who disagree.
Sputnik reported last week that "The Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has opposed local reconciliation deals in the country, stating that they should not serve as a substitute for wholesome political settlement", which might therefore diminish the chances that their allied militias will go ahead with this initiative. In the event that they don't, there's little that the Syrian Arab Army or Russia could do to force them to reconsider, seeing as how the de-escalation zones are just that — zones where a cessation of hostilities has been commenced — and it's unlikely that either of them would use military means and break this agreement in order to get their way. This makes the reconciliation committee proposal an ambitious one fraught with the obvious risk that the most important intended parties will decline to participate, which would in that case stonewall the political process in the country.
That's where three external guarantors of the de-escalation zones — Russia, Iran, and especially Turkey — come in, as they'd in that case be expected to encourage the on-the-ground actors in those spaces to give the reconciliation committees a chance, bearing in mind that neither Great Power will technically be involved in this strictly intra-Syrian affair once, or if, it commences. Even this approach isn't guaranteed to succeed, but it's the best that one can hope for under the present conditions in being prohibited from using force to coerce the opposition to the negotiating table. If this latest attempt at finding a peaceful political solution fails, however, it might cause some parties to rethink their commitment to the de-escalation zones and reverse the progress that was made over the past couple of months.
Andrew Korybko is joined by Steven Sahiounie, Syrian-American journalist, and Jamila Assi, Syrian blogger at Shababeek Souria and jamilaeyes.com, whose work aims at offering a platform for a counter narrative to that of mainstream media on Syria.
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