Syria’s warring sides agreed to a ceasefire in Munich on Thursday that is set to take affect next week. With the Syrian civil war now nearly five years old, a break in fighting could prove valuable for civilians in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
The U.N. hopes to use the ceasefire period to deliver crucial aid to civilians in besieged areas. “UN officials say they are determined to seize this new opening,” the BBC’s Lyse Doucet reported. “The next week will confirm whether Syria’s government and opposition forces are ready to provide access denied for so long.”
The death toll from the war was recently estimated to be around 470,000, a stark increase from previous estimations. Starvation is also rampant in certain parts of the country, where a ceasefire could open up space for aid deliveries.
Salim al-Muslat, a spokesman for the main Syrian opposition group the High Negotiations Committee, told USA Today that he “welcomed the plan to work toward a cease-fire and send humanitarian aid.”
The “cessation of hostilities”, as it is being referred to by Secretary of State John Kerry, is not expected to hold however, with some diplomats telling the BBC the agreement is “not worth the paper it’s printed on.”
Many Syrians don’t believe the regime will uphold their part of the deal. “The regime has never sounded genuine about a ceasefire,” Mohammed al-Sheikh, a Free Syrian Army Spokesman in Azaz, told the Guardian. “No one believes it. Talking about a ceasefire has become a routine. But it’s a useless process.”
One besieged area where aid is needed is Aleppo. The Syrian army is currently moving in to take the city and their forces are buttressed by Russian airstrikes. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, has witnessed clashes between the Syrian army and the Syrian opposition for some time, but recent advances mean that the Syrian army is well-suited to take the city.
“The regime is advancing quite quickly,” Bahar al-Halabi, an FSA member in Aleppo, told the Guardian. “It is an obvious collaboration between the regime, the Kurds and the Russians. Now we have to fight three giants at the same time. We have very little left. Nothing can change things now. I can’t lie and say that the position of the FSA is strong.”
One caveat of the ceasefire is that it doesn’t apply to fighting groups the U.N. labels as terrorist organizations, like ISIS and the al-Qaeda aligned Nusra Front. Syria and Russia are often lax with labeling though, as seen by Russia’s initial claim in October that it would enter Syria to bomb ISIS, while it is instead actually hitting FSA strongholds.
Russia appeared to be more flexible in this round of peace talks than in the past, with Moscow outlining a ceasefire proposal. Pressure on the talks increased earlier this year when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said they would deploy ground troops in Syria to fight ISIS. Certain analysts believe Arab states’ involvement in Syria would actually be to counter the Assad regime.
Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev recently told German newspaper Handelsblatt that such a development could lead to a world war. “A ground operation draws everyone taking part in it into a war,” he said.