Voices from Syria: Ceasefire will not bring peace

Voices from Syria: Ceasefire will not bring peace
Video: Syrians react to the United States-Russia-led ceasefire deal announced earlier this week.
4 min read
24 February, 2016

Hardened after years of war, Syrians are struggling to believe that the ceasefire deal announced for this weekend will put an end to their country's cycle of violence.

From northern Aleppo province through the souks of Damascus to the southern plains of Daraa, a deep-rooted distrust among Syrians could foil the plan announced on Monday.

The "cessation of hostilities" proposed by the United States and Russia has been approved by both the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the main opposition grouping.

But Syrians themselves appear resigned to the brutal war that has killed more than 260,000 people since popular protests broke out in March 2011.

Local activist Mohammad Najm al-Din strolls under grey skies amid the ruins of the eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo city.

"Russia and America have come up with a new way to numb the Syrian people," says the young man with shoulder-length hair under a baseball cap.

"We've seen plenty of ceasefires in the past and they were always violated by the regime... Nothing will change on the ground," he says.

Russia and America have come up with a new way to numb the Syrian people... We've seen plenty of ceasefires in the past... Nothing will change on the ground

In 2012, joint UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan managed to establish a truce, but it collapsed within a few hours. A 2015 proposal by his successor and current envoy Staffan de Mistura for a ceasefire in Aleppo fell apart before serious progress could be made.

Journalist Mamoun al-Khatib, who is from Aleppo, says the same will happen this time around: "Nothing has changed and nothing will change," he says.

'This agreement will fail'

The ceasefire deal excludes the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise, the Nusra Front.

But the complex and at-times overlapping patchwork of opposition territory in Aleppo province has other rebels fearing they will be hit.

A commander in the hardline Islamist faction Ahrar al-Sham said the deal was doomed to fail because it would try to divide rebel groups.

"Tomorrow, they will exclude us in Ahrar al-Sham from the agreement... this agreement will fail," Abu Abdo al-Assir said.

Without details on how the truce would be monitored, residents of Aleppo fear that the regime and its stalwart ally Moscow will intensify their fierce bombing campaign near the city.

"The bombing will continue in Aleppo and in the north, and this ceasefire will do us no good," says Abu Walid, a volunteer in Aleppo city's civil defence service.

The bombing will continue in Aleppo and in the north, and this ceasefire will do us no good

While Russia insists it is targeting IS and Nusra, the opposition and its backers have accused it of inflicting civilian casualties and hitting non-extremist groups.

"There won't be a ceasefire, because the regime and its Russian allies won't respect it," says long-time opposition activist Diaa Hariri.

He comes from the southern province of Daraa, where Russian raids have helped government forces advance on several towns.

"The Russians came because of their interests, because they want to strengthen their influence in Syria, and this is inconsistent with the presence of moderate forces on the ground fighting against Bashar al-Assad," Hariri told AFP.

Divided rebels blamed

Residents and shopkeepers in government-controlled areas of the Syrian capital also expressed doubts a ceasefire would hold - but blamed the other side.

In the winding souks of Damascus, Toufiq al-Sheikh Atieh, 42, says anti-regime forces are too fragmented to commit to peace.

"The other side, unfortunately, has dozens of foreign backers that pull the strings," he says.

"So one part can agree and the other says we don't have anything to do with this. This is how the ceasefire plan will fail."

The distrust extends to respective backers of opposing sides of the conflict.

Shopowner Abu Jaafar, 45, says he fully believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin "will not let Syria down".

"But US President Barack Obama does not fulfil his promises. He lets down his allies," he says.

It's a fragile truce... Ceasefires have been announced repeatedly in the past and we didn't see any results on the ground because they were violated

Although Damascus has seen less violence than other parts of Syria, it has been hit hard by economic collapse, with soaring inflation and high unemployment.

"Maybe we will not suffer directly from the ravages of war, but military operations have already affected living conditions with the insane increase in prices," says Samer, who works at a fast-food restaurant.

"I don't think any stop to military operations will affect living conditions - the prices that shot up will not drop again."

And 54-year-old Rana, a pharmacist, says the deal, like others in the past, will not bring peace to Syria.

"It's a fragile truce," she says.

"Ceasefires have been announced repeatedly in the past and we didn't see any results on the ground because they were violated."