Hopes for reconciliation in Aleppo

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In the battle-scarred city of Aleppo, a glimmer of hope is present as talk of reconciliation emerges.

The National Reconciliation Committee of the People’s Council of Syria seeks to expand its powers through legislation that would turn it into a body comprising legislative and executive branches. This comes as the term "national reconciliation" captured media headlines, and talks addressed "freezing the fighting in Aleppo," a phrase used by UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura.

De Mistura’s initiative has been “officially welcomed,” with an official’s “readiness to consider it,” an official source said. This is while opposition factions, which are represented by several parties inside and outside Aleppo, have rejected the idea, arguing that it “helps the regime survive,” while others have imposed “impossible conditions” to its implementation, including that “[Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad step down,” a source told As-Safir.

Nevertheless, efforts were made a month prior to de Mistura’s work, and they are ripening today.

On Nov. 4, 2014, Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi sent the committee, which consists of 30 MPs in 14 governorates, a memorandum asking for “[the adoption of] a framework at the national level,” for the committee and the expansion of its influence and ability.

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In addition, the committee has received a copy of “the national concord law” and “national reconciliation law” from Algeria, in order to take advantage of Algeria’s “black decade,” which represented an entire decade of security exhaustion in the 1990s.

Omar Osei, head of the National Reconciliation Committee, told As-Safir that the council has requested the formation of a supervisory body for this committee, which will include five ministers and four governors (Damascus, Rif Dimashq, Homs and Daraa), as well as the head of the National Security Bureau and the committee’s members.

Osei said one of the reasons behind this decision is to prevent “foreign groups [from] claiming to work in this field.” He added that “based on an analysis, and not on information,” its work can later on intersect with de Mistura’s proposal as an action plan in Aleppo.

De Mistura visited the city of Homs last week, although his eyes were focused on Aleppo. He met with government officials there, as well as representatives of the entrenched opposition in al-Waer neighborhood.

Yet, speaking to As-Safir, government officials said that “the experiment of Homs cannot be applied in Aleppo for many reasons,” despite the official confidence that “reconciliations are the best way to contain and limit the conflict.”

Media activists expressed their fear from the collapse of the truce in Beit Sahem in Rif Dimashq (Eastern Ghouta), Yalda and Babbila, as Jabhat al-Nusra, which rejects any settlement in those areas, is progressing, while the humanitarian situation and the situation on the ground worsen. This was reflected in a limited popular rebellion against the ruling military authority that monopolizes the relief materials.

For its part, the UN mission probably does not want the same to be applied in Aleppo, and prefers a settlement agreed upon by all parties that is not imposed by force of arms or the siege and where civilians do not pay the price.

Simultaneously, a field study by a group of Syrian and foreign researchers addressed truce and reconciliation processes that either succeeded or failed, as well as the prospects and conditions of the settlements. Although the study, issued by the Madani Foundation, relies on opposition sources and lacks an accurate documentation when compared with the surveys by the International Crisis Group, it has enumerated the most important obstacles that hampered the settlements in Syria.

The almost 60-page study said that the most important obstacles to settlements in Syria are "the regional intervention, the presence of fighters from other areas, the absence of independent reliable mediation and independent control, the presence of pro-[regime] paramilitary factions, as well as military tactics (as a temporary situation that requires the presence of a truce and that ends as [the truce] ends) and finally a growing economy of war," which is considered by government officials as one of the main problems that hinder the achievement of reconciliation at a broad level.

This factor is present in the divided city of Aleppo, which is in constant need of relief convoys and aid. And, of course, the previous obstacles are also present, such as regional interference on both sides, combat battalions filled with foreign members, and the absence of reliable mediators on both sides, which is a valid reason for the absence of any real reconciliation in Aleppo so far.

However, the study identified factors that would help “impose a cease-fire,” including: the congestion of civilians, the need for services, the need for strategic resources (including vital roads, for example) and military parity. Although the last element does not apply to Aleppo at present, as the Syrian army is progressing against its opponents and is very close to besieging Aleppo militarily, the presence and cohesion of opposition factions have declined in Aleppo and one of its most prominent leaders fled to Turkey, according to the Turkish press.

Yet, the Syrian army still needs to stretch toward the northeast, where “the important military show” is taking place between “the international coalition” and the Islamic State, enabling it to cut off supply routes between Aleppo and Idlib on the one hand, and Aleppo and its northern countryside on the other.

This seems possible, in light of the progress it is making, although it is unknown how this progress can be affected by any future truce or freeze in the conflict. Moreover, the Syrian government continues to refuse any proposal regarding autonomous councils that make decisions independently from the state's authority, although it asks them to provide services at the same time.

Besides, it is a relief for Damascus that Aleppo be part of an international and regional, Turkish, French and UN polarization, as it is now, regardless of any ambitious agreement that will result in freezing the conflict, even though it will actually allow its troops to focus on a battle that is no less important in the south of the country, in light of fears that it has become a new threat to Damascus.

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Found in: syria, jabhat al-nusra, bashar al-assad, aleppo
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