Deraa is the place of where the conflict that has ravaged Syria since 15 March 2011, and which has had worldwide ramifications, actually started. This conflict that had its genesis in the Arab Spring, could have potentially rocked the world. And in recent weeks, the wheel has turned full circle and fighting has returned to Deraa. Now, however, peace may again be a possibiliy.
After fighters in Deraa were supplied with very heavy weapons, and consequent shelling by forces loyal to the Syrian government, a Russian brokered ceasefire took hold in the city. The agreement, which was negotiated over three days, appeared to satisfy certain demands from both sides, with rebels demanding a Russian military presence in Deraa Al-Balad, and the government forces, similarly demanding a security presence in that stronghold. The deal is holding despite its rigidity, although there are plenty of reports from those on the ground suggesting that this is not the case.
The current situation in Deraa is complex and is going to be made more difficult by the ambitious plans of some of the key players. Israel plans on running a pipeline through the province of Deraa to supply offshore natural gas from Gaza, to Syria and Lebanon. More imminently, there are plans that would involve electricity being transmitted through Syria to Lebanon. Consequently, despite the fact that Hezbollah militia contributed in the fight against the rebels, Israel wishes to see stability and has decided not to threaten them in this circumstance.
In addition, unfavourable climatic conditions and a dwindling Euphrates have left North-Eastern Syria at serious risk of drought. Indeed, farmers who have been living on the banks of the river for generations are being forced to move as they are not able to irrigate their lands and there have been reports of mothers having to walk over seven kilometres in order to get the water to feed their kids. This situation is predicted to become increasingly severe, not just in the Northeast region, but also for the highlands area.
Following the latest catastrophic developments in the province of Daraa, and in particular in the city of Daraa Al-Balad, the Syrian government and its allies seem to have the upper hand; although most fighters have not boarded the “green buses” that are typically used in similar situations. Meanwhile civilians have been displaced to the fields and neighbourhood places without the minimum requirements for life.
As a matter of fact, as the Syrian crisis reaches the ten-year mark, the humanitarian situation remains dire. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes, and those who remain are struggling to access sufficient food and rebuild their lives. Conflict, mass population displacement and unprecedented economic pressures are driving hunger, and Syrian families need help more than ever. Furthermore, families have lost their jobs due to COVID19 lockdowns and at the same time the price of basic foods have soared to record highs. Combined, these factors have pushed families across the country deeper into poverty, hunger and food insecurity. A record number of Syrians are now food insecure, and 12.4 million people are now struggling to access a basic meal. This is almost 60% of the country’s population, and this has increased by a staggering 4.5 million people in the last year alone. Millions of Syrians have escaped across borders, in what has become the world’s largest refugee crisis in decades.
Now an additional 1.8 million people are at risk of becoming food insecure, unless urgent humanitarian action is taken.
What is arguably needed is an international peacekeeping operation – but that is not a viable option. Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, would in any case opt for its veto power.
The Next Century Foundation strongly encourages both the Syrian government and the Russian brokers of the ceasefire to show good willingness toward the fruition of peace, which would last without any further military intervention, by keeping Russian observes in place and forgoing the usual practice by Syrian government of busing the fighters and their respective families toward other places. Reconciliation is essential, for the sake of rapprochement and long-term stability in the region.