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Truce in Syria enters into third week to give Geneva talks a chance

March 12, 2016, 4:22 UTC+3 By Ilya Dmitryachev GENEVA March, 12. /TASS

Initially, the truce was conceived as indefinite. Moscow, Washington and the United Nations were unanimous on that score

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© Valery Sharifulin / TASS

GENEVA, March 12. /TASS/. Ceasefire in Syria is two weeks old. Russia-and US-cosponsored truce took effect at 00:00 Damascus time on February 27. True, there has been no day without certain incidents. The Russian Defense Ministry has said that on Friday alone ceasefire was violated eight times. But the very fact that the lull in combat operations has entered into a third week is a telling sign.

Why two weeks?

Initially, the truce was conceived as indefinite. Moscow, Washington and the United Nations were unanimous on that score.

"From the UN point of view and the Geneva meetings we have been having on the task force and certainly [the] Munich understanding, there was an open-ended concept regarding the cessation of hostilities," the UN Secretary General’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said on March 9 after a meeting on Syrian humanitarian issues in Geneva. However, the Riyadh-backed oppositional High Negotiations Committee (HNC) had declared from the outset that it would observe truce for two weeks. That the Syrian opposition no longer mentions the two-week deadline but agrees that the scale of violence in the country has reduced does inspire certain optimism.

Truce as a prelude to talks

Moreover, however fragile, the existing ceasefire regimen does allow for starting a second round of indirect intra-Syrian talks in Geneva.

At the end of January and early February de Mistura made the first attempt to gather in one city the parties to the bloody conflict, which according to the most conservative UN estimates has claimed 250,000 lives. The initiative failed, though, and on February 3 de Mistura took a pause to schedule the talks for February 25. Later the negotiations were postponed till March 7, and then till March 9.

De Mistura explained one of the main reasons for the delays was it was essential to see first whether the truce would be observed and where the whole process would go. Otherwise, he warned, the parties might get bogged down in mutual accusations of ceasefire violations instead of beginning the talks.

It looks like all conditions are now in place. At least de Mistura on March 9 declared the formal beginning of the negotiations, adding, though, that "substantive" peace talks would start on Monday, March 14.

Talks without delegations

In diplomatic parlance this means that on March 14 the talks are expected to begin in earnest. But the timetable continues to be kept secret. If there is a timetable at all, of course. Neither Syrian government delegates nor HNC negotiators have arrived in Geneva yet.

The Riyadh-backed opposition said on Friday that it would go Geneva. It declared that it would be prepared to arrive in Switzerland without any preconditions, but, just as it was the case in January, it pointed to the need for the implementation of the resolution the UN Security Council adopted in December 2015, first and foremost, achieve an end the blockade of besieged communities and cities, bring humanitarian aid to those who need it and to release women and children from jail. The HNC acknowledges that the outlook for the negotiations’ success is not very good yet.

Its chief, Syria’s former Prime Minister Riyadh Hijab warns that the chances of achieving an agreement looked slim, because, he claimed, the regime was using the suffering of the Syrian people in order to avoid what he described as irreversible results of the political process. The opposition’s delegation says nothing as to when it may arrive in Geneva. The position of Syria’s official delegation remains unclear, too. Possibly, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Moallem will make a statement on this score in Damascus on Saturday.

Sad date

The established fragile truce gives some hope the peace talks will get underway at last, after several failed attempts. It is noteworthy that the date of their beginning will in fact mark the fifth anniversary of the bloody war. March 15, 2011 saw the first anti-government demonstrations that heralded the start of one of the most acute conflicts of the modern era, a conflict that would soon not only suck the Middle East into the whirlpool of hostilities, but also send tensions among major world powers to new highs, force 11 million Syrians leave their homes and cast a shadow of terrorism on Syria and the neighboring countries.

By Ilya Dmitryachev, Konstantin Pribytkov, Yulia Semyonova

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