The international community tried to impose a ceasefire in Syria on 24 February, passing resolution 2401 through the United Nations Security Council. The ceasefire never took hold and it is now clear it will not. This was inevitable.
Bashar al Assad’s regime, and the governments that support him in Iran and Russia, have repeatedly made use of ceasefires to sequence their war, taking advantage of the calm on some fronts to concentrate firepower on other areas. The only question is why Western diplomats gambled that this time would be any different.
Resolution 2401 passed unanimously, 15-0, in the Security Council—a rarity on Syria, where Russia, usually backed by China, has vetoed ten resolutions that would investigate, condemn, and/or impose penalties for Assad’s criminality. That Russia could cast its vote in the affirmative for 2401 should have been a warning sign.
The resolution spoke in its pre-amble of “deep disturbance at the lack of United Nations humanitarian access to besieged populations …, especially in [regime-besieged] Eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, [and opposition-held] Foua and Kefraya,” and its “outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence escalating in several parts of the country, in particular in Idlib Governorate and Eastern Ghouta but also Damascus City, including shelling on diplomatic premises, and at attacks against civilians”.
This even-handedness—comparing the full-scale military assault on eastern Ghouta with the rebel shelling of areas of Damascus from that besieged enclave—was stitched into every line of the resolution.
2401 “demand[ed]” a “durable humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria, to enable the safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid,” while affirming that “the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against the Islamic State (Daesh) … Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front,” now known as Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS). In all prior ceasefires, Russia has secured an exception for military operations against terrorist groups, and in all prior cases has abused this exception to liquidate whichever pocket of resistance is most troublesome at that time.
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