Syria truce breaches amid mounting refugee crisis
It remains highly unlikely that the ceasefire will bring forth any major shifts in the conflict or promote long-term calm
The two-week cessation of hostilities that began on Feb. 27 has reportedly been marred by a number of breaches by the Syrian regime and its backers, including Russia. Nonetheless, the bloodshed has been significantly reduced, and the period of relative calm could lay a more solid foundation for the next round of talks on March 7 in Geneva.
Meanwhile, Balkan states have begun enforcing daily limits on the number of refugees allowed to enter, and France has moved to clear a major camp in Calais. With a lack of comprehensive coordination among states and no certain end in sight to the Syrian conflict, the refugee crisis in Europe appears likely to worsen.
The High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian opposition said Russian jets on Sunday bombed at least 26 positions held by rebel factions that had agreed to the truce. A day later, suspected Russian airstrikes hit civilian areas of Jisr al-Shughour, killing a pregnant woman and injuring a dozen others, the Washington Post reported. Meanwhile, Moscow has said a number of parties have violated the ceasefire, including Turkey.
Despite the breaches, the truce continues to be mostly upheld, but could collapse if Russia continues to carry out operations while failing to make a distinction between rebel fighters and terrorist groups.
During this period of relative calm, parties should commit to addressing the root causes of the conflict while pressuring Balkan states to not eschew their humanitarian responsibilities.Brooklyn Middleton
Capitalizing on the truce, the United Nations has said it plans to facilitate the transfer of aid to at least 150,000 people over the coming days. After the disastrous aid drop last week - which saw 21 tons of humanitarian aid destroyed or lost - the need for humanitarian workers to be guaranteed safe access on the ground was again underscored.
It remains highly unlikely that the ceasefire will bring forth any major shifts in the conflict or promote long-term calm. Involved parties should prioritize securing the transfer of humanitarian aid to all besieged areas, and allowing such successful operations to serve as a model for all future aid missions. The transfer of humanitarian aid to all areas of Syria should be non-negotiable.
Days before the ceasefire went into effect, Macedonia and other Balkan states announced plans to significantly restrict entry to refugees, triggering a massive build-up of trapped people - mostly women and children - in Idomeni, Greece. In utter desperation, a number of refugees staged a protest by throwing themselves and their children onto railway tracks.
With reports confirming that Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia will only allow approximately 580 refugees to enter per day, the situation is likely to significantly worsen in the near term. Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said 50,000-70,000 refugees would likely be trapped in his country by next month.
If the ceasefire fails, all parties are likely to intensify their operations, which could spark another wave of migration to European states. During this period of relative calm, parties should commit to addressing the root causes of the conflict while pressuring Balkan states to not eschew their humanitarian responsibilities.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.