Departure of Assad is no longer a pre-condition to end conflict - Benoit Tessier/Reuters Departure of Assad is no longer a pre-condition to end conflict - Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Syria Conflict: Indications suggest Assad may be here to stay

Tue, Jul. 4, 2017
CAIRO – 3 July 2017: The Syrian Central Bank announced on Sunday that a new 2,000 Syrian pound ($3.9) banknote will go into circulation soon. It will be the first to carry the face of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad since he took office on July 17, 2000, according to Associated Press news agency.

This decision makes a strong statement regarding the continuation of Assad’s regime in power. The new currency arrives in parallel with the Syrian national army's success in reclaiming territories from militant opposition groups epitomized in the Islamic State (IS) and Fateh El-Sham Front (also known as Al-Nusra Front).

This is particularly apparent in the recent defeats that IS has suffered, to the extent that its de-facto capital, the Syrian city of Raqqa, has been besieged by troops backed by the Global Coalition against Daesh. The group partnered in 2014 and comprised some 68 states.

Recently, there has been a great focus by the international community on defeating IS and other terrorizing extremist groups in the region. A large number of terror attacks were launched by members of these groups or inspired by similar violence in Europe.

That focus has been a priority and has taken precedence over pushing for a change in the political leadership in Syria, particularly the demand for the departure of Assad.

French president Emmanuel Macron stated on June 21 that, “he saw no legitimate successor to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and France no longer considers his departure a pre-condition to resolving the six-year-old conflict,” according to Reuters news agency.

Although France has been backing Syrian opposition, Macron has set fighting terrorist groups and ensuring that Syria does not become a failed state a priority. The new president added that Assad is, “not an enemy of France,” and that, “cooperation with everybody, including Russia, to eradicate terrorist groups is needed.”

“Colonel Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for the U.S.-led international coalition against IS, said Syrian government forces are welcome to reclaim IS-held territory and fill the vacuum once the extremist group is gone,” Fox News reported.

Dillon told reporters at the Pentagon that Iranian and Russian forces are also welcome to join the fight against terrorist groups.

On its part, the Syrian regime denies targeting civilians by any means, blaming the armed opposition for casualties and accusing it of attempting to implicate the Syrian army in war crimes.

On May 30, the Syrian government accused the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of relying on the testimonies of “terrorists” residing in Turkey. Their reports concluded sarin gas was used in an attack that killed 90 civilians on April 4 on Khan Sheikhoun in the opposition-controlled Idlib province.

As ABC News reported, the report did not indicate who was responsible for the attack; however, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Syrian activists blamed the government for it. The United States launched a missile strike in retaliation against a Syrian military base located in Shayrat village of Homs governorate.

OPCW and the U.S. defended the report’s methodology, defending the decision not to investigate Khan Sheikhoun, nor the base that allegedly launched the attack. They claimed that investigators could not visit the scene because it was too dangerous, but instead, "analyzed samples from victims and survivors, and interviewed witnesses,” according to ABC News.

"The report came up with a fabricated and exaggerated story that has no credibility and can't be accepted in any way because it is illogical and is the creation of a sick mind," the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement responding to the results of the OPCW probe.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced on Friday that 440,000 out of 6.3 million internally displaced Syrians and 31,000 out of 5.5 million who fled abroad have now returned to their original locations, according to the BBC.

The main cities experiencing a return of citizens are Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Damascus. UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic described it as a, "notable trend of spontaneous returns to and within Syria."

Since 2015, 260,000 refugees returned to Syria, primarily from Turkey, while 200,000 fled the country in 2016.

The numbers of those returning indicate that a considerable sector of the Syrian people feel safe under Assad’s regime which they favor over other extremist armed groups. It also indicates that more would have returned if better infrastructure and facilities existed.

In 2016, Amnesty International mentioned in a report based on interviews from 70 individuals living or working in the northern provinces of Idlib and parts of Aleppo. They reported that opposition groups conducted a wave of torture, abductions and “summary killings,” according to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

“While some civilians in areas controlled by armed opposition groups may at first have welcomed an escape from brutal Syrian government rule, hopes that these armed groups would respect rights have faded. They have increasingly taken the law into their own hands and committed serious abuses,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East programme.

Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, opposition groups both armed or peaceful have been merging, dissolving, or changing their titles in addition to becoming polarized due to complex internal politics. It has been difficult to track their status and assess their capability to rule, unite, or achieve reforms.

The risk of political polarization within these groups is not always because of differences in ideology, often it arises from sectarian reasons. Kurds are pushing for further political integration and autonomy over their territories from the central state in Damascus.

On the other hand, Sunni extremist groups who compose the great majority of opposition powers insist that they must take over rulership in objections to Bashar al-Assad. They claim that he is a Shi'ite Alawite belonging to a minority Muslim sect.
Sunnis compose 73 percent of the Syrian population, while Shi'ites are 15 percent. Other religions including Christians make up around 12 percent.

The current international stance on the conflict in Syria, as well as the return of more than half a million citizen, indicate strongly that the most probable scenario in the upcoming years is that Bashar Al-Assad will retain his position until stability is achieved in the country and militant groups are obliterated.
 
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