DAMASCUS — Since 2014, Russia, Iran and Turkey have been key stakeholders in the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. More than 400,000 people died in Syria’s civil war and combat against ISIS, and as a result of the many international coalitions conducting air strikes, the lives of thousands hang in the balance. The recent Russian-brokered de-escalation deal now ensures the creation of safe zones and a cessation of hostilities in the predominantly civilian-populated areas in Syria.
The comprehensive agreement, officially dubbed the Syria De-Escalation Deal, strongly enforces and fortifies both fronts involved. Syrian Prime Minister Bashar Al- Assad’s air force will cease incoming flights in the area; similarly, U.S. military aircraft will also not operate in the zone.
The Russian-brokered de-escalation deal covers a massive physical area and an aggregate population of over a million. The de-escalation zones include strategic areas in Northern Syria like Eastern Ghouta, Idlib province and the districts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recently stated that despite how recently the agreement went into effect, fighting is already steadily coming to a halt. It has already been ratified by the United Nations and commended by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
One of the most promising and striking aspects of the Russan-brokered de-escalation deal is that it will pave the way for more effective distribution of aid. U.N. bodies and other aid agencies will now be able to channel aid with greater ease. Until now, aid-giving has been rather challenging due to the presence of both air and ground force defense campaigns.
In the first 24 hours of the agreement, the Russian military provided five tons of food products to civilians in the targeted provinces. Moreover, according to a report by Sputnik International, Russia successfully air-dropped more than 21 tons of food to the Deir-az-Zor with the aid of parachute platforms. Armenia also emulates Russia’s example by providing humanitarian aid and support to Syria in a joint effort.
Turkey, which supports the Syrian opposition and acts as a key sponsor of the deal, is an important contributor in safeguarding the interests of vulnerable individuals within the de-escalation zones. Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) has been able to dispatch over 1,518 trucks equipped with necessities to Hama, Homs, Idlib and the Aleppo countryside. Under the agreement, it will be easier to provide more infrastructure and aid in future.
However, the Syrian government and many parties involved remain skeptical about the agreement. They do not want any international or external forces playing too large of a monitoring role. This may lead to escalating tensions that impact the deal. If that happens, it will be difficult to assist civilians in their time of need.
The deal opens up many new opportunities. Refugees and other internally displaced individuals may now be able to return to their homes. The concept of establishing “safe zones” could also be applied in other disputed areas within Syria and Iraq.
Overall, the Russian-brokered de-escalation deal heralds a new phase in the Astana Peace Process that will pave the way for a renewed peace in many key areas in Syria. It marks the first time for coordination and collaboration between governments, ground forces and aid agencies. Not only may it alter Russia-U.S. relations regarding the issue, but it can also alleviate the looming threat of internal displacement, death and poverty for thousands of people.
– Shivani Ekkanath