x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Annan plan plays into Assad's hands

The Annan peace plan gives the Assad regime time to consolidate gains on the ground. Does the UN envoy realise that his diplomacy will make it easier for the regime to push a campaign that is killing innocent civilians?

In a statement passed last week, the UN Security Council gave its full support to a Syria peace mission headed by former UN chief Kofi Annan. After first failing to pass a resolution with the teeth to curb the bloodshed, it would seem the Security Council instead decided to capitulate.

President Bashar Al Assad signed the deal on Tuesday. He had every reason to do so: the plan does not call for him to step down, does not specify a transition period, does not even set a deadline of any kind.

The plan effectively supports the regime's propaganda that it is fighting an armed opposition - shamefully failing to clarify that fighting started after months when it had been slaughtering families. The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, told the BBC this week that the regime systematically targets children for detention and torture.

Diplomacy is an exercise in nuance, but it is difficult to see how Mr Annan can square the regime's crimes with this ceasefire offer.

In recent weeks, Mr Al Assad had intensified the blitz to restore control over areas seized by military defectors and eradicate "safe havens" for the opposition. Unable to endure the constant shelling, army defectors in the Free Syrian Army have withdrawn from several areas in Homs, Deir Ezzor, Damascus and Idlib.

Mr Al Assad knows that he cannot fully restore calm to cities that have become flashpoints of unrest until army defectors lay down their arms. And defectors, faced with the threat of execution, will not stop fighting of their own volition. Mr Al Assad will surely seek to exploit the Annan mission to pressure the opposition, which has been meeting in Istanbul this week.

Indeed, this was Damascus's official statement made to Mr Annan: "All armed fighters completely disappear from the areas, abandon their arms and any illegal armed activity, and also all areas are linked back together to justify the withdrawal of the military back to its barracks."

Many responsible voices have been calling for an end to the bloodshed. The problem with this plan, however, is that it ignores that it was the regime's security forces that started the killing. The condition that army defectors lay down their arms - first - is nonsensical.

Mr Annan may have good intentions behind this diplomatic dance, but he has fallen into a trap. Mr Al Assad must go. Anything less, and diplomacy only allows the regime to consolidate its battlefield gains.