Syrian regime leader, Bashar Assad, fighting to smash the year-long uprising against his dictatorship, agreed to a UN-Arab League plan with a 10 April deadline for a ceasefire.
But the deal, which Assad felt forced to formally accept, is now almost certain to fall apart as the state steps up the violence against its own citizens.
Several towns, including Homs, Deraa and the Douma suburb of Damascus, are being shelled. 100 killings were reported in the two days leading up to the deadline.
On Monday 9 April Syrian forces fired across the Turkish border into a camp for Syrian refugees near the town of Kilis. Syrian troops also fired about 40 rounds across the border into northern Lebanon, killing a Lebanese cameraman.
Amnesty International said it had counted 232 deaths in the week since Syria accepted the peace plan.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, never expected Assad to comply with the peace plan:
“He shoots people but pretends he is withdrawing troops. He is not withdrawing troops but he is duping the international community.”
In fact the UN initiative, brokered by Kofi Annan, is a poor plan. It treats Assad and his opponents even-handedly when there is no equivalence between his brutal one-party state and those attempting to defend their rights. Probably all Annan has done is to buy Assad a little time. Annan’s efforts symbolise the weakness of western efforts to end the killing in Syria.
New waves of refugees are fleeing the country. Over 2000 arrived in Turkey on 4 April alone.
The humanitarian crisis inside Syria is also worsening. Valerie Amos, head of the UN’s humanitarian affairs office stated: “We estimate around a million people need help with healthcare and access to food.” A quarter of a million are now displaced inside the country.
Although Assad’s state has won some military battles recently, there is no likelihood that opposition, including armed opposition will end. The Sunni Arab critics of Syria, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have offered to pay wages to the fighters of the Free Syrian Army via the political front, the Syrian National Council. The SNC is now, following internal fights, an Islamist organisation, albeit one fronted by liberals.
The Saudi rulers — who run a theocratic dictatorship — are not benign.
Their offer of money is about buying control and strengthen Islamist-Sunni sectarians amongst the opposition. The Saudis are calibrating their response carefully. They aim to show sympathy for the oppressed Sunni majority in Syria. However they don’t want to see Saudi youth fighting in Syria in the same way they fought in Iraq; and they are wary of the implications of further chaos in Syria.
The US and Turkey have offered non-lethal aid to the opposition, including communications equipment.
However the US has also invested a lot of diplomatic time in lobbying against Arab states sending weapons to the opposition inside Syria. The Saudi and Qataris have offered to send weapons, although do not seem to have taken many practical steps to deliver them.
The US is concerned that no one outside the country has much direct control over the militias fighting Assad’s forces on the ground. The US sees the armed opposition moving towards Iraqi-style Islamist resistance.