A review of the latest developments in the Syrian Arab Republic reveals that the ongoing processes in the country have become relatively more stable. These processes include:
- holding the third process of parliamentary elections;
- election of Hussein Arnous as prime minister and formation of his cabinet;
- arrival of the first train in Damascus from Tartus port after a nine-year hiatus;
- Syrian Army’s control over parts of northern regions in southern Idlib;
Undoubtedly, one of the significant factors in the process of stabilizing the political entities is the legitimacy of a government through elections. Despite nearly 10 years of crisis, the Syrian Arab Republic has managed to hold six elections, including two parliamentary elections, two local elections for city and provincial councils, and a presidential election.
The recent parliamentary election in the Syrian Arab Republic was held with the slogans "Your vote is your right", "Your vote is your duty" and "Make a difference with your voice and your vote" in 7,277 polling stations with 1,656 candidates, including 200 women competing for 250 seats in the Syrian parliament. After formation of the parliament, prime minister-designate Hussein Arnous was once again introduced by President Bashar al-Assad to the parliament as the prime minister of Syria, and his cabinet could win the vote of confidence. Syria’s success in holding the third parliamentary election amid the continued critical conditions and the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the northwestern and eastern regions was highly significant. The election strengthened the stabilizing process through the legitimacy of the government.
The other stabilizing components in Syria include the reconstruction process in spite of foreign interference, specifically after the implementation of the American Caesar Act against Syria in June 2020 as punitive measures against the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad. Such stabilizing process would not only encourage the Syrian expatriates to return home, but also makes them feel hopeful about the prospect of Syrian independence and self-sufficiency. The most important event in the reconstruction process in recent months, known as a fundamental development, was the resumption of rail freight transport between Tartus Port and Damascus. The significant event took place in an official ceremony in August, when a cargo train with a shipment of wheat arrived in the central train station of Damascus from the port of Tartus. It was the first time over the past nine years and after the civil war in Syria that a trade cargo was freighted by train from the Mediterranean coast to the capital. Director-general of Syrian Railways has announced that reconstruction and renovation of the Latakia-Tartus rail route to Homs is also underway. Syria is also finishing the reconstruction of Damascus- Zabadani rail route and a railroad for transport of phosphate from Homs to Tartus. The completion of those reconstruction projects would connect Syria’s railway to the Islamic Republic of Iran via Iraq, passing through the Al-Bukamal border crossing. The connection of the railways could have great significance for the evolution of transportation infrastructure in the region and the links with the Mediterranean. A review of on-the-field processes during the past recent months shows that the Syria Army forces have cleansed the occupied regions in Jabal Al-Arbaeen and Jabal al-Zawiya, situated in center and south of Idlib Province, and have laid siege to terrorists in northwestern Hama Governorate. The strategic operation led to liberation of the important and strategic town of Kafr Nabl in north of Jabal al-Zawiya from occupation. This town is considered as one of the major bases of terrorists in southern Idlib, situated along the road linking Ma'arrat al-Nu’man to al-Ankawi. The Syrian Army troops have also managed to retake control of the towns of Hazarin and al-Dar.
This operation is of great significance, because the area that has been cleansed of terrorists in northern regions situated south of Idlib Governorate includes regions such as Kafar Sijnah, al-Rakaya, al-Naqir, Sheikh Dames, Sheikh Mustafa, Sitouh Al-Dayr and Arnibah, allowing the Army to intensify control over the M4 Motorway. In the meantime, the rifts within the terrorist groups affiliated with Al-Nusra Front, division of the terrorist group into Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Hurras al-Din, and the confrontation between them have ruined the existential nature of them in Idlib and its outskirts and have also nullified the foreign supports to unify and strengthen those terrorist groups.
- International Efforts
The most important event as part of the international efforts to resolve the Syria crisis was the fourth European Union Conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”, held at the level of foreign ministers in Brussels in June 2020 and co-chaired by the EU and the United Nations. The third Brussels Conference had been held 15 months earlier. According to the European Union, participants in the conference pledged to donate €6.2 billion to Syria for 2019 and an additional €2.1 billion for 2020. The European Union and its Member States agreed to donate two-thirds of that sum of money.
Another significant event was a virtual summit of Iran, Russia and Turkey within the Astana format, which took place one day after the Brussels Conference and concluded with a 14-article statement. Participants in the summit reiterated that the conflict in Syria has no military solution and would be resolved only through a Syrian-Syrian political process facilitated by the United Nations under the UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The heads of the three states also reaffirmed their commitment to stand against the separatist agendas that are aimed at weakening Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and threatening the national security of neighboring states. At the conclusion of the virtual meeting, the participants agreed to hold the next summit in the Islamic Republic of Iran at the invitation of the Iranian president at the earliest opportunity.
Among the international actors which have adopted stances on the Syrian crisis, the US has played a role that runs counter to Syria’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. The United States has played with the Syrian Kurds for the purpose of forming a united Kurdish Army at Saudi Arabia’s expense and has also pushed for a controlled revival of ISIS. The unstable presence of ISIS in Syria’s southern and eastern deserts is part of such policy.
The course of developments in Syria and the external efforts indicate the focus on a political settlement of the Syrian crisis rather than a military solution. Undoubtedly, the intensity of such process would depend on two main subjects: firstly, an acknowledgement of Syria’s independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty, and secondly, the acceptance of any process of change that would be achieved through dialogue and Syrian-Syrian agreements. In such circumstances, the violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity or the instrumental employment of terrorist groups to reach regional objectives in Syria would go counter to the goodwill efforts, particularly under the Astana Process.
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)