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Solving Syria strife riddled with hurdles

Agreeing on political transition in Syria remains an uphill task as the huge government-opposition divide will likely complicate a settlement. The fate of President Bashar al-Assad, presidential elections and the type of new government are main obstacles that need to be addressed for peace to prevail across Syria.
Syria’s conflict, which began on March 15, 2011 with a peaceful protest movement calling for President Assad to step down, metamorphosed into an overlapping domestic, regional, and international struggle over Damascus.
The heavy-handedness of Syria, then frightened by the spread of the Arab Spring, turned the uprising violent after launch of a brutal crackdown on
dissent, whose key players became the various armed forces — regime,
opposition, terrorists and the Kurdish.
Sadly, the local actors in Syria may not have leverage to end the conflict as regional and international actors do, notably, Washington and Moscow. The signs of their intervention could be seen in the temporary ceasefire introduced on February 27, and has so far largely held. Russia and the United States have exerted their influence over opposing sides of the complex war to broker the landmark truce.
“The two great powers talk among themselves by phone or in meetings around the world. Then they inform their Syrian allies and de Mistura what they’ve decided,” says veteran opposition figure Haytham Manaa.
Observers worldwide share Manaa’s reading. Russia and the US are the only two major powers that could bring about peace should they compromise their conflicting interests and bring on board other regional players.
Another major obstacle is local. Multiple groups of conflicting interests are competing for dominance.
The toll of the Syria strife is huge. If this war continues, it will further devastate Syria and beyond. “Every Syrian child under the age of five has known nothing but a lifetime shaped by war – that’s an estimated 2.9 million children inside Syria and at least 811,000 in neighbouring countries,” the UN children’s agency said.
Syria’s war has killed more than 270,000 people and forced more than half of a pre-conflict population of 23 million from their homes, according to the United Nations.
As the conflict enters its sixth year, the embattled regime and fractured
opposition are in Geneva for indirect peace talks hosted by United Nations peace envoy Staffan de Mistura.
In the beginning of the conflict, both Washington and Moscow were
reluctant to intervene. Washington finally got involved in Syria in September 2014, as part of a bombing campaign against the IS group.
One year later, Russia launched its own air war campaign against the
terrorists, but Washington and its allies believe Moscow is in Syria to back Assad after a devastating string of losses for the regime in the spring and
summer of 2015.
So far, Russian and American leverage over warring parties in Syria have had its limits. About half of Syrian territory is controlled by either IS or Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front, complicating the current truce deal and a future settlement. Yet, they have what it takes to dwarf the terrorists. The militants have mushroomed across Syria, exploiting the vacuum created by the deteriorating Syria conflict.
In 2014, the world was stunned when the IS group completed its takeover of the eastern Syria city of Raqqa and went on to conquer Iraq’s Mosul. It eventually took over an area straddling the countries’ border the size of Britain — absorbing weapons, wealth, and personnel along the way.
The small protest that started in a Syrian remote town has swollen to unleash the wave of displacements into Syria’s neighbours. Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan alone host around 4.4 million refugees from Syria; in Lebanon, they make up more than one-fifth of the population.
Meanwhile, Europe was not spared as it received over a million migrants, mostly refugees from Syria — in one year alone, in 2015.
Lessons could be drawn from regional conflicts that start small and
suddenly grow to take an international shape. These conflicts need to be nipped in the bud.

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