Amid peace talks, Is the military situation in Syria escalating?

On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was ready to supply ground troops to fight in Syria. Saudi Arabia is looking to launch airstrikes into Syria.

Omar Sanadiki/REUTERS
A general view shows the besieged city of Douma from Wafideen Camp, which is controlled by Syrian government forces, in Damascus suburbs today.

As diplomats seek a truce in Syria, the war could actually be escalating. Under the cover of Russian airstrikes, Syrian troops are advancing on the strategic city of Aleppo. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have also announced plans to send troops into the country. 

On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu revealed that Turkey would supply ground troops to fight in Syria against ISIS. And he said Turkey would allow Saudi Arabia to carry out airstrikes from Turkish bases.

With the death toll of the Syrian Civil War estimated at 470,000, there is growing concern about the situation in the country.

On Friday, the United States and Russia arranged a temporary cessation of hostilities that is scheduled to go into effect in a week. US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the deal, saying that it was unanimous. Both sides hope to use the ceasefire to send in humanitarian aid to people in Syria.

"Once we get clearance by concerned parties,” said UN Special Envoy for Syria Steffan de Mistura in a statement, “the U.N. and its humanitarian partners will be able to reach the civilians in need within the coming days.”

Syria’s internal instability has allowed the terrorist group ISIS - and other opposition forces – to take hold of large swaths of the country. While the ceasefire is targeted at allowing concerned countries to send humanitarian aid to Syrians who need it, some Syrians say that loopholes in the agreement and the fight against ISIS and anti-Assad rebels will allow violence to continue.

After negotiations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia plans on ending some of Russia’s airstrikes in Syria, though it would continue to target “terrorist groups,” which include ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.

The two countries also intend to engage in some sort of communication regarding humanitarian programs, although Mr. Lavrov indicated that communication could actually extend into the military realm as well.

Yet, as Mr. Kerry reminded the press, the deal currently only exists on paper. “What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground,” Kerry said.

Within Syria, many are less than optimistic. The New York Times reports that Syrian people are very conscious of the fact that previous Syrian peace talks have failed. Why should this one be different?

Diplomatic dealmaking is also a far cry from progress on the ground. As a Syrian man, identified only as Faisal told the New York Times, “The deals they make there are so isolated and detached from this reality here.”

Other critics of the truce say that diplomats are naive. Not only does the deal allow Russia to continue airstrikes in parts of Syria, but it allows Russia to continue to define all opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as terrorists.

Kerry has said of Russian airstrikes that, “to date, the vast majority, in our opinion, of Russia’s attacks have been against legitimate opposition groups.”

Although the United States has been involved in negotiating the ceasefire, it remains devoted to countering the threat of ISIS and other groups operating in Syria.

“President Obama is determined that it [defeating ISIS] will not take too much time,” said Kerry. “And we welcome the recent announcements a number of countries have made to intensify their support.”

Therefore, although diplomats seek a cessation of hostilities on the part of Syrian and nonstate actors, there appears to be an escalation of military activity and options.

The Associated Press reports that as Russian airstrikes have continued, the Syrian army is advancing towards the strategic Syrian city of Aleppo. Activist Amer Hassan said, "We have not seen such intense air raids before."

Will fighters on the ground abide by the negotiated ceasefire, or will the Syrian government use the cessation of hostilities as cover for continued Russian airstrikes against anti-government opposition and terrorist groups like ISIS alike?

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