ALEPPO, Syria — It's just a few days before the long-anticipated Geneva II talks aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict kick off, and already there are dramatic swings and changes on the battlefield and in the diplomatic arena. The regime has submitted its final roster and named the officials who will be representing it, while the ever fractious Western- and Gulf-backed opposition-in-exile is still bickering. But a threat from the US and the UK to cut off support if it fails to attend may provide the needed incentive for the national coalition to finally field its delegation. Crucially, Haytham Mana’s NCB (National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, an umbrella group for what is known as the “internal opposition”) will likely not be attending. Also notably absent is Iran, which raises serious questions about the aim of the talks. Are they merely a theatrical media circus to announce to the world what was already agreed upon between the world’s superpowers? Or are they simply a half-hearted and feeble attempt at peace brokering — a solid waste of time?
The most notable and dramatic event, of course, involves the recent Islamist rebel infighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the nascent Saudi-backed Islamic Front, which has claimed over 1,000 lives in the past two weeks, shifting areas of control in north Syria after the moderate Free Syrian Army was almost completely destroyed earlier last month. Significantly, the United States and Russia are now seemingly closer to a consensus as they try to push for localized cease-fires in Syria, something which has in fact already successfully taken place in Madamieh and Barzeh in Damascus, providing a possible template for a broader cease-fire, as well as for prisoner exchanges and access to humanitarian aid for besieged areas across Syria.