February 27th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY SSCA: Check out this inversion of the Parental Control system

CANBERRA OBSERVED Barnaby Joyce likely to give Cabinet a kick-along

ALCOHOL Studies confirm benefit of earlier nightclub closures

HISTORY OF TAIWAN Post-WWII Japan's loss is Chiang Kai-shek's gain

SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT Welfare of children at heart of surrogacy inquiry

EDITORIAL Syria agreement first step to ending the carnage

EDUCATION Discounting Christianity in schools denies history

WORLD CONGRESS OF FAMILIES Diversity's American dream: genderless parenthood and apple pie

ENVIRONMENT Harry Butler: a victim of deep-green politics

EUTHANASIA Legitimate denial of choice at end of life (Part I of two)

ACTIVISM Safer schools or a radical Marxist sexual revolution?

UNITED STATES Big Brother v the Little Sisters: Obama takes nuns to Supreme Court

MUSIC Oppositions reconciled in logical harmony

CINEMA Of heists and hedge funds: The Big Short

BOOK REVIEW Alarms and arms

BOOK REVIEW The human factor


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Syria agreement first step to ending the carnage

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, February 27, 2016

It took an international agreement, negotiated between the United States and Russia, to create the first hope in years of an end to the Syrian civil war in which the superpowers have thrown their weight behind the two warring sides.

Bashar al-Assad

The Syrian civil war is nominally about the succession to President Bashar al Assad, the Syrian President who has been facing a vicious civil war to overthrow him since 2011.

Syria was not a democracy under Assad – in fact it was a one-party dictatorship – but for decades it enjoyed relatively peace internally between the different branches of Islam, as well as a significant Christian minority.

Because Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, the major Sunni states in the region – including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf oil states – all funnelled weapons into the region, supporting Sunni terrorist organisations affiliated to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The major Western powers – including the United States, France and the UK – all gave moral and material support to the anti-Assad forces, and demanded that Assad step down.

In response, Shi’ites from neigh­bouring Lebanon and Iraq, as well as Iran, threw their support behind Assad, turning the Syria civil war into a religious war between Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam.

Russias role

More recently, following the US-EU air intervention against Islamic State terrorists, who capitalised on the anarchy of the Syrian civil war to seize substantial parts of eastern Syria, Russia intervened directly in the war, sending Russian aircraft to attack anti-Assad forces, as well as IS oil trucks carrying contraband petroleum into Turkey.

The effect of the Russian air intervention was to transform the military balance on the ground, so that Assad’s army, backed by Lebanese and Iranian troops, have gone on the offensive, winning back complete control of the capital Damascus, as well as the northern province of Latakia, which borders Turkey.

Government forces are now threatening to capture control of Syria’s second largest city, Aleppo, which has been in rebel hands for four years.

It is unclear whether the ceasefire will become effective, as neither the Syrian government nor its opponents have yet agreed, but at least it indicates that both superpowers now want the fighting to end, although they have different views of the preferred outcome.

The Syrian military opposition has continued to demand the overthrow of Assad, despite the fact that the United States has now abandoned this condition for negotiations.

The four-year civil war, in which a reported 250,000 people have been killed, and millions have fled into neighbouring countries, is a major trigger for the influx of Middle-Eastern immigrants into Europe, creating massive pressure within the European Union for an end to the war.

The ceasefire followed a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution, carried on December 18, which demanded that the warring parties immediately cease any attacks against civilian targets, urged UN member states to support efforts to achieve a ceasefire and requested the UN to convene the parties to engage in formal negotiations in early January 2016.

Arising from this resolution, the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) was set up to negotiate a ceasefire. Although the Assad government pledged to participate, the anti-Assad opposition refused to meet or have any discussions with the government.

Under the terms of the UN Security Council resolution, terrorist organisations including Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front are excluded from negotiations, and offensive and defensive military action against them was authorised.

The ISSG is the umbrella under which the UN has brought together all countries with a stake in the Syria war. It includes all the major Sunni and Shi’ite nations in the Middle East, as well as the countries of Western Europe, the EU, the United States and Russia. In its agreement, it supported implementation of a nationwide cease­fire as well as immediate humanitarian access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas and the release of any arbitrarily detained persons. They also agreed to continue to fight terrorism.

The ISSG also established a task force, co-chaired by the United States and Russia, to bring about a ceasefire throughout Syria.

The countries supporting the Syrian rebels are under great pressure, because of the military advances of the Syrian government over recent months. It is now clear that they cannot depose the Assad government through military means; and unless they agree to a ceasefire now, the rebels may be defeated on the ground.

The ISSG is calling for agreement between the warring parties “within six months” on a political transition plan that establishes credible, inclusive, non-sectarian government, and an election within 18 months.

Each of these conditions will be resisted by the anti-Assad militias who still dream of military victory.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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