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Limited Truce Holds in Syria, For Now

The real tests are yet to come.

Dan Klein
April 12, 2012
Syrians walk in the bazaar of old city of Damascus on April 10, 2012(LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians walk in the bazaar of old city of Damascus on April 10, 2012(LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Sometimes you have to take what you can get. The Syrian military seems to have stopped shelling cities after a ceasefire deadline passed this morning—we’re at eleven hours and counting—as part of a truce agreement brokered by Kofi Annan on behalf of the Arab League and United Nations. Foreign observers had been—and still are—bearish on the truce’s chances, particularly as Syrian forces had stepped up their assaults on opposition neighborhoods in the days prior to the truce. Even less encouraging are the Syrian troops, tanks and snipers, which were supposed to be withdrawn from cities and there are some reports of raids on government opponents in Damascus, making it seem like this might just be an opportunity to reload.

The real test is tomorrow when, even as negotiators gather in Istanbul for nuclear talks with Iran, Syrians will demonstrate after Friday prayers, which if Assad remains true to form will likely be treated as a provocation to violence and a reason to break the truce. According to the Brookings Institution’s Daniel Byman all players are desperate to avoid the consequences of a renewal of violence, which might include increased American involvement, increased pressure on an intransigent Russia (although there are some that think their stance is shifting), and more weapon shipments from Arab states to the rebels. If the ceasefire does hold, however, it would be something of a coup for Russia which has seen its influence in the Middle East fade and allow the international community to regroup, take a breath and shift gears to dealing with Iran in Istanbul.

Meanwhile, in what could be encouraging, cynical or supremely optimistic, Syria’s interior ministry is urging refugees to come back to whatever’s left of home.