Our Opinion: Syrian cease-fire offers only modest hope


Is the cease-fire announced Monday in Syria likely to have a significant impact in that destroyed nation? Most likely no, but doing nothing is not an option.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergie Lavrov announced the agreement in Jordan, with Mr. Lavrov representing the government of Bashar al-Assad and the US speaking for the assorted rebel groups that oppose President al-Assad in the five-year civil war that has killed an estimated 250,000 people. The cease-fire is supposed to take effect on Saturday.

The cease-fire does not and cannot apply to either the Islamic State (ISIS) or the al-Qaida-backed Nusra Front, terrorist groups with no legal standing in Syria and no interest in negotiating anyway. Violence will continue regardless of the cease-fire, and indeed on Sunday, 87 people were killed by car bombs in Damascus and 59 people died the same way in Horns. ISIS claimed credit for the bombings in both cities.

President al-Assad, the ultimate source of the chaos in Syria, describes the rebels who oppose him as terrorists, which limits optimism about the cease-fire holding for long. Air strikes launched against rebel groups by Russia, the Syrian president's only real ally, have dramatically worsened matters in the country, and the cease-fire agreement indicates that Russia may be weary of the endless fight. This offers some hope that Mr. al-Assad will cooperate.

Aside from the horrific loss of life, the conflict in Syria has forced millions to flee the war-torn nation, fueling the refugee crisis threatening European unity. While ISIS and al-Qaida, which moved into the vacuums created by war in Syria and Iraq, have experienced losses recently, they continue to do grievous harm.

A successful cease-fire among the al-Assad regime and rebel groups would enable the United States and its allies, and maybe Russia, to focus on ISIS and al-Qaida. All parties need it to hold, but in Syria, described as a "fractured state on the brink of collapse" Monday by a UN commission, chaos, war and bloodshed have become the norm.


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