A ceasefire in Syria that lasts? Doubtful, say watchers across border

Syrians have seen ceasefires come and go in the six years of war that has ravaged their country. The latest partial truce has been met with a mix of optimism and skepticism, writes CBC’s Derek Stoffel.

Latest truce raises hope as next round of peace talks are held in Geneva, but many have seen this before

A girl looks out from a bullet-riddled bus in a the southern Syrian city of Deraa, where a partial ceasefire is in effect. (Alaa Al-Faqir/Reuters)

The guns and artillery launchers have fallen silent in southwestern Syria, a day after the latest international effort aimed at finding a partial solution to the country's long civil war came into effect.

The ceasefire was brokered by Russia, the United States and Jordan. It was announced last week at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg.

The truce brought with it a mix of optimism and cynicism from people involved in the conflict, which has left more than 400,000 people dead since March, 2011.

"I hope that the bloodshed will stop in Syria," said Salman Fakhrdeen, who has kept a close eye on a conflict that has raged just beyond the United Nations-monitored buffer zone separating the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria. 

Salman Fakhrdeen in the main square of Majdal Shams, a Druze town in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Fakhrdeen lives in Majdal Shams, a Druze town on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. Druze are an Arabic-speaking religious minority who have close ties to Syria.

But after many internationally backed truces that have come into effect and later failed, Fahkrdeen says he can't help but wonder what this latest effort will achieve.

"To be optimistic with all this bloodshed is very [difficult]. I worry more, and I'm sorry more," he told CBC News.

Details of the ceasefire were limited, but it's believed Russia's military will largely police the truce and the "de-escalation" agreement that came with it, in co-ordination with Jordanian and U.S. authorities in the region.

A Free Syrian Army fighter carries a weapon as he walks past damaged buildings in a rebel-held part of the southern city of Deraa. (Alaa Al-Faqir/Reuters)

It is in effect in southwestern Syria, in the provinces of Quneitra, Swede and Deraa, which includes the city of the same name where anti-government protests in early 2011 sparked the larger civil war.

The latest round of peace talks between Syria's government and the opposition resumed Monday in Geneva, with few holding out hope of a breakthrough, even as the southern ceasefire held.

Low expectations for Geneva

"We hope that something will come out of this, although the expectations are quite low, said Yahya al-Aridi, a spokesperson for the opposition delegation in Switzerland. 

Aridi called the partial truce "a serious endeavour to bring peace" which "is quite important because the main concern about our people is to live in peace."

The regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has remained mostly quiet about the latest truce, although an official in Damascus told Reuters the government's silence was a "sign of satisfaction." 

A view of the Syrian town of Quneitra from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Residents of the area now under the ceasefire say they saw heavy fighting between opposition forces and the Syrian military, with one rebel commander reporting what he called intense bombings by the Syrian army in recent weeks.

Israel's army has responded to multiple incidents in the past month or so, where what it describes as "errant fire" from Syria has landed on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. 

The Israel Defence Forces reports 18 mortars or shells that have spilled over the frontier since June 24.

'Errant fire' and Israeli response

A mortar shell landed in an open area as Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting the Golan Heights last month.

Israel's air force has responded to several of the incidents with air strikes. Syrian media reported resulting casualties among Syria's military.

As part of his regular job as the security chief of the Israeli kibbutz in El-Rom in the Golan Heights, Motti Piade spends time at an observation point overlooking the Syrian town of Quneitra, about a kilometre in the distance.

"Sometimes when the fighting is close to the border, we will move our farmers away," he said, pointing to the chain-link fence erected by the Israeli government.

Motti Piade, the security chief of the El-Rom kibbutz, points to the Syrian city of Quneitra from the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Piade says he understands the skepticism felt by many Syrians who think this latest ceasefire will be broken like others in the past. But he holds out some hope that this agreement might be different.

"I hope that this time, with bigger players involved like the United States and Russia, and a stronger policing of it, maybe it will stand."


Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.