Russia & US reach consensus about ceasefire in southwest Syria: Implications


Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : In the wake of the first meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, on the sidelines of the G20 in Hamburg, Germany, officials from both sides stated that a consensus about a ceasefire agreement in southwest Syria had been reached.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump_G20_Hambug_Germany_2017Not many details about the consensus that was reached on Friday, July 7, have been released to the press. Officials from both sides have, however, made general statements. The ceasefire is set to come into effect on Sunday, July 9, at noon, Damascus time.

nsnbc was informed by an here unnamed source, that Jordan and Israel will also participate in the ceasefire regime, even though details about that aspect are even more closely guarded than other details.

Earlier this week the government of the Syrian Arab Republic halted combat operations in the south of Syria for four days in advance of a new round of peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana. That ceasefire covered the southern provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida.

The U.S.-American side views the agreement that was reached on Friday in Hamburg as part of a future, broader discussion between the United States and Russia, aimed to limiting violence between forces who are combating the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria. The USA and Russia have supported and cooperated parties in the fight against ISIS which at times are combating each other.

During a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abeat the G20 in Hamburg, Putin said that he and Trump talked at length about a large number of issues, which included the crisis in Syria and fighting terrorism. At the beginning of his meeting with Trump, Putin said that phone calls alone aren’t sufficient to resolve issues and meeting in person is necessary.

In the same context, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a press conference after the aforementioned meeting that Russian, American, and Jordanian experts reached an agreement on a memo of understanding for establishing a de-escalation zone in Daraa, Quneitra, and Sweida, and that a ceasefire will begin in these areas as of July 9th at noon. Lavrov did not mention Israel – which might be because it is a “very sensitive” issue both the US and Russia tend to avoid in public.

Lavrov said that there’s confirmation to the US and Jordan’s commitment to the unity and integrity of Syrian territory, adding that Russian military police will preserve security around de-escalation zones. He also said that the how de-escalation zones in Homs and al-Ghouta will look in was also discussed during the Astana meetings, and talks about a similar zone in the north are still ongoing.

Not to be confused: De-escalation and de-conflition zones

The de-escalation zones encompassed by the ceasefire are often confused with the so-called de-confliction zones. While the de-escalation zones are zones that involve a spatially and temporally defined cessation of hostilities under a fixed agreement, the so-called de-confliction zones are based on an entirely different concept. In June, after clashes in al-Tanf, later followed by the downing of a Syrian SU-22 and other incidents in “de-cofliction zones”, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Eric Pahon explained to nsnbc editor-in-chief Christof Lehmann (this author):

“A deconfliction zone is not a line in the sand, and it is not the same concept as the de-escalation zones that have been in the news. Syrian troops can operate anywhere in their country they want. Our actions in al-Tanf are about defending ourselves against an assessed threat which really has little to do with any kind of zone, although the word was mentioned quite a bit, mostly as a convenient unit measure.”

Asked about the legal basis for establishing such a “deconfliction zone”, such as a  relevant UN Security Council resolution or other legal frameworks, Pahon invoked a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Russia instead, saying:

“There is a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Russian militaries with the intent to help ensure safety of flight and deconflict air operations to avoid mishaps. Operation Inherent Resolve is a complex, dynamic environment for air and ground operations, with multiple groups fighting in close proximity. As we focus on destroying ISIS, we remain ever-cognizant of the need for constant, regular communication to avoid an action that could result in a strategic miscalculation by any of the actors operating in the battles space”.

Pertaining the concept of self-defense and the legal basis for the presence of U.S. troops in Syria and thereby their presumed right to “defend themselves”, Pahon said:

U.S. military commanders always retain the inherent right and obligation to exercise the customary international law of right of self-defense in response to a hostile act or demonstrated hostile intent.

Defense Department spokesman Pahon’s statements, however, don’t clarify the legal basis for the presence of U.S. troops in Syria. A legal basis for their presence would, for example, be an authorization issued by the Syrian government, a UN security Council resolution that has been adopted with the concurrent vote of all five permanent UNSC members.

That said, the “Coalition” commented on the downing of the Syrian SU 22, repeating a standard, non-specific “cut and paste reply” the likes of which nsnbc and many others received on numerous occasions. The “Coalition”, without referring to any specific legal mandate, and “consistently avoiding to be specific with regard to legal mandate”, claims:

“The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian regime, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition or partnered forces. … The Coalition presence in Syria addresses the imminent threat ISIS in Syria poses globally. The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward Coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated. … The Coalition calls on all parties to focus their efforts on the defeat of ISIS, which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace and security. …”  

Following the downing of the Syrian SU-22 Russia suspended the Russia – US deconfliction channel. It remains to be seen whether the suspension will be maintained after the talks on Friday in Hamburg.

Why southern Syria? A Consensus about a compromise on the Iran – Iraq – Syria – Lebanon axis?

The agreement reached on Friday, encompassing de-escalation zones in Daraa, Quneitra, and Sweida suggest that Moscow and Washington may be working on a compromise with regard to the influence and presence of Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed forces in the Iraq-Jordan-Syria tri-border region and its extension along the Golan and parts of Lebanon. As already proposed in a 2012 nsnbc interview with Pakitani Major (r) Agha H.Amin, one of the main objectives with the war on Syria was to weaken Iran and Hezbollah.

The full interview entitled The volatility of Gas, Geo-Politics and the Greater Middle East. An Interview with Major Agha H. Amin” was published in February 2012 and forecast, with stunning accuracy, developments in Syria as well as Turkey. It also explains the subsequent developments in Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish, predominantly Kurdish regions and the trend toward the establishment of Kurdish state and semi-state constructs that can now be observed.

Syrian Arab Army continues operations

The “deal” between Putin and Trump – or rather the USA, Russia, Jordan, and not to forget Israel, does not end the war for the Syrian Arab Army or the war in Syria. It is even questionable whether de-conflition zones will be used as a pretext for conflict in de-escalation zones, and then there’s the question how long such a deal will hold.

A Syrian military source declared on Saturday morning that the Syrian Arab Army regained control over Jbab Hamad village in the eastern countryside of Homs central province, after eliminating the last gatherings of the ISIS terrorists there. Over the morning hours on Saturday, army units reportedly carried out special and precise operations against gatherings of the ISIS terrorists in the eastern countryside of the province, establishing control over Jbab Hamad village.

It added that scores of the ISIS terrorists were killed and their arms and equipment were destroyed in the operations, indicating that the engineering units dismantled the mines and the explosive devices planted by terrorists in the village. Meanwhile, the army air Force reportedly killed a number of the ISIS terrorists and destroyed their vehicles in Badiyat Hmeimieh and to the east of Arak in the eastern countryside, according to the source.

The Army Air Force also carried out intensive airstrikes on the ISIS movement axes and positions in al-Thardah Valley, al-Jafra village and in the surrounding of the Cemeteries area in Deir Ezzor. The airstrikes reportedly killed and injured a number of ISIS terrorists in addition to destroying their armored vehicles and machineguns-equipped cars. Army artillery forces reportedly intensified bombardments targeting ISIS gatherings and fortifications in the surroundings of the Airport, al-Howeiqa crossing, al-Thardah Valley and al-Bghiliyeh village.

The army air force also carried out a series of airstrikes on the ISIS positions, gatherings and fortifications in the surrounding of the Panorama, west of 137 regiment, the water resources, al-Knamat crossing and al-Bghiliyeh village, destroying a number of them and inflicting heavy losses upon the terrorists in personnel and equipment. Meanwhile, local sources reported that a number people of al-Kataf area at the outskirts of Abu Kamal city clashed with ISIS terrorist group, killing 3 ISIS terrorists and burning a car they were driving.

In Raqqa, the army Air Force reportedly destroyed ISIS gatherings and vehicles to the south and east of al-Fahdeh Station and south of Beir Abu Kobra and Khibret al-Haloul in the western countryside of Raqqa. Syrian air force operations in Raqqa are to some degree being hampered by the fact that some of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) tend to call on the U.S. for support when they perceive Syrian anti-ISIS air raids as a threat.

CH/L – nsnbc 08.07.2017



Source Article from https://nsnbc.me/2017/07/08/russia-us-reach-consensus-about-ceasefire-in-southwest-syria-implications/

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