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A resolution to the Syrian crisis remains a distant dream. The bloody conflict between the Syrian government and opposition forces continues and the United Nations' efforts to restore peace in the country have been failures.
On Jan 30, Israel launched an air strike on a convoy, which it claimed was carrying anti-aircraft weapons for Hezbollah in Lebanon, inside Syrian territory. The attack came just a day after the bodies of 78 people killed by unidentified forces were found in a river in Aleppo. The discovery of the bodies has raised the possibility of outside forces being involved in the Syrian conflict, which only the countries supporting the opposition can clarify.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, has said the country is being destroyed and his mediation efforts cannot go forward unless the UN Security Council unites to push the Syrian government and opposition forces toward some sort of compromise.
He even suggested that the Geneva Communiqu be reconsidered. The communiqu, passed at the meeting of the Action Group on Syria on June 30, 2012, calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body comprising members of the present government and the opposition and other groups, as part of agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition in the country.
Brahimi's remarks - that a compromise other than that recommended by the Action Group be considered - are not in line with the fairness principle of UN mediation. Besides, given the current situation in Syria and the opposition's position, President Bashar al-Assad is bound to refuse to resign.
A UN peace plan without the participation of the state party is destined to fail. Brahimi has said: "The solution shouldn't wait until 2014. It should be in 2013." The UN-backed political resolution to the crisis mainly includes sending security forces to Syria to supervise a ceasefire, implementing the transition plan and electing a new government. In other words, it is aimed at avoiding a military solution, establishing a Syrian-led transitional government and resolving the crisis through political and diplomatic means. The principles of the resolution are based on the Geneva Communiqu.
Responding to the UN peace plan, the Syrian government even showed its willingness to cooperate with international mediators. In his televised speech on Jan 6, Bashar al-Assad offered a new peace plan to end the crisis saying that all parties should cease fire and a national reconciliation conference be held, leading to elections, a new constitution and eventually to the establishment of a transitional government. But he demanded that foreign countries first stop helping the opposition fighters.
Assad's political solution is basically consistent with the principles and content of the UN peace plan. The Syrian government's new initiative points to some compromise, because by agreeing to establish a "transitional government", it intends to change the political structure of the current government. But Assad's proposal has not been accepted by the opposition or the UN.
The UN peace plan reflects the mainstream voice of the international community, suggesting that the risk of a military alternative is diminishing. But because of the great differences between the Syrian government and the opposition, the road to political settlement is extremely difficult.
The Syrian government still has the upper hand in the conflict. It still has a wide range of political, economic and military resources, as well as cohesive forces. The opposition, on the other hand, has internal differences, and the Syrian National Council, the newly recognized opposition group, lacks credibility. Besides, the opposition still doesn't have a clear strategy about how to govern the country. Recently, the opposition even failed to reach an agreement on the formation of a transitional government.
To resolve any conflict peacefully, the involvement of both disputing parties is necessary. More importantly, the resolution should be acceptable to both. But Brahimi's remarks have put the UN peace plan in a limbo. Without the participation and reorganization of the state party in Syria, a political solution cannot work. And there is every indication that this round of mediation to resolve the Syrian crisis will come to naught.
Syria does not have the conditions or basis to hold a national dialogue for a political resolution. The UN peace plan cannot narrow the differences between the Syrian government and the opposition. On top of that, some Western countries and Gulf States have been planning military intervention in Syria. All this has made it even more difficult for the Syrian government and opposition to reach a compromise. And former UN special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan's resignation shows how tough the mission to restore peace in Syria is.
Given these developments and the current situation in Syria, a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the short term is unlikely.
The author is a researcher at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily 02/06/2013 page9)