Sami Moubayed is a Syrian historian and author of Under the Black Flag (IB Tauris, 2015). He is a former Carnegie scholar and founding chairman of the Damascus History Foundation.

  • Latest Syria agreement sparks fears of partition, On: Sun, 16 Jul 2017

  • Greater military role in Russia’s Syria strategy , On: Sun, 09 Jul 2017

  • Astana and Geneva unlikely to yield immediate end to war, On: Sun, 02 Jul 2017

  • Changing the mandate of UN forces in southern Syria, On: Sun, 25 Jun 2017

  • Qatar’s Iran connection a factor in the Gulf crisis, On: Sun, 18 Jun 2017

  • Even with Israel, old amity is eroding, On: Sun, 18 Jun 2017

  • Syrian opposition wary of Qatar crisis fallouts, On: Sun, 11 Jun 2017

  • Qatar’s bears brunt of its support to Muslim Brotherhood, On: Sun, 04 Jun 2017

  • Conflicting strategies on the way to Raqqa, On: Sun, 04 Jun 2017

  • Erdogan’s Ottoman visions in Syria , On: Sun, 28 May 2017

  • Progress but questions remain after Washington and Astana, On: Sun, 21 May 2017

  • 69 years on, al-Nakba is history and Iran is the Arabs’ enemy, On: Sun, 14 May 2017

  • Syria’s population transfers cause sectarian upheaval, On: Sun, 07 May 2017

  • Trump’s U-turn on Syria checks Iranian ambitions , On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • From the grave, Qabbani’s poems lay bare Syria’s agony, On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • As Syria war grinds on, no good options for Putin and friends , On: Sun, 23 Apr 2017

  • Trump’s Tomahawks and the Abu Nidal factor , On: Sun, 16 Apr 2017

  • The day after the battle for Syrian city of Raqqa , On: Sun, 16 Apr 2017

  • Syria’s refugees face limited choices now and likely in the future , On: Sun, 09 Apr 2017

  • Erdogan’s pact with Putin changes war in Syria , On: Sun, 02 Apr 2017

  • After six years of war, Syria is an economic basket case, On: Sun, 26 Mar 2017

  • Trump, Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood, On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • Turkey threatens as US deploys troops in Syria , On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • The complex politics of the battle for Syria’s al-Bab , On: Sun, 19 Feb 2017

  • Trump feels his way through Syria’s labyrinth , On: Sun, 12 Feb 2017

  • Assad eyeing Hamas split over Syria , On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • For Syria’s millions of refugees, no future and no hope, On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • Astana talks change the rules on Syria negotiations , On: Sun, 29 Jan 2017

  • Assad’s new strategy: Wooing back defectors , On: Sun, 22 Jan 2017

  • Damascus goes dry as Syria’s grim water wars intensify , On: Sun, 15 Jan 2017

  • Guterres faces Herculean task of rescuing UN, On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • Putin seeks to be peacemaker in Syria — on his terms , On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • ‘Reconciliation’ part of Syria’s post-war education system, On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • Assad walls off West with BRICS and then there’s Trump , On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • ISIS and Putin’s Machiavellian endgame in Syria , On: Sun, 11 Dec 2016

  • Moscow seeks talks with Syrian rebels to overturn UN effort , On: Sun, 04 Dec 2016

  • Why ISIS and Baghdadi will survive losing Mosul, Raqqa, On: Sun, 27 Nov 2016

  • Warring rivals struggle to unravel Trump’s Syria policy , On: Sun, 20 Nov 2016

  • Hariri walks the tightrope again as Aoun’s prime minister, On: Sun, 13 Nov 2016

  • Latest Syria agreement sparks fears of partition

    Everybody, including Donald Trump and the Syrian opposition, seems to accept Russian boots on the ground.

    Seeking new formula. Bashar al-Ja’afari, Syrian chief negotiator and ambassador of the Permanent Representative Mission of Syria to the United Nations, speaks to the media, during the Intra Syria talks, in Geneva, on July 11. (AP)


    2017/07/16 Issue: 115 Page: 8



    Beirut- The resolutions of the Trump-Putin meeting in Hamburg took the Syrian political elite by storm, although the handwrit­ing had been on the wall for weeks. The two presidents settled what had been postponed at the July 4-5 round of Astana talks — the crea­tion of a de-conflict zone in south­ern Syria, encompassing the cities of Daraa and al-Quneitra and the countryside of Sweida in the Druze Mountain. Although not part of the Astana talks, the Hamburg Agree­ment certainly complemented what Syrian negotiators failed to agree upon in Kazakhstan.

    The new zone is the latest terri­torial arrangement agreed upon in Astana by Russia, Turkey and Iran. Four de-conflict zones will now see the light: North of Homs, east of Da­mascus, in Idlib in north-western Syrian and in southern Syrian.

    Syrians from both sides of the conflict are terrified by the latest agreement, seeing it as a soft par­tition of the country, establishing long-term pockets of regional and international influence that will be difficult to dismantle in upcoming years.

    The Iranians are demanding that they get to help police and man all four de-conflict zones, something that has been fiercely vetoed by all other stakeholders in the conflict, including the Syrian opposition. Jordan and Israel refuse to accept any Iranian influence on the Syrian- Jordanian and Syrian-Israeli bor­ders, insisting that Hezbollah gets pushed away by 55km into the Syri­an heartland. For the past two years, the Israeli Army has been bombing truckloads of Hezbollah arms enter­ing the Golan Heights and targeting Hezbollah figures hovering danger­ously close to the borders.

    Iran will be forced out of the bor­der area and left to reign in its ex­isting pockets of influence in Syria, namely in the Qalamoun Mountains overlooking Lebanon, the Damas­cus-Beirut Highway and at the Shia shrines in Damascus.

    Instead of the Iranians, the Rus­sians will be mandated to control the southern zone through military police from Chechnya, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, similar to the 600 Russian troops deployed to Aleppo last December. Everybody, includ­ing US President Donald Trump and the Syrian opposition, seems to ac­cept Russian boots on the ground.

    The Turks are asking that they get their share of the divides, run­ning the city of Idlib with Mos­cow, which fell to an assortment of Turkey-backed Islamic rebels in 2015. Damascus has firmly objected to the suggestion, although the Rus­sians are seemingly not too upset with it, seeing that Turkish troops are very capable of reigning among military groups who have been on Ankara’s payroll since 2011.

    Russian President Vladimir Pu­tin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been cutting very successful deals over Syria for the past year. Last August, Putin allowed his Turkish counterpart to invade and occupy the border cities of Jarabulus and Azaz, then let the Turks march on the city of al-Bab, 40km north-east of Aleppo.

    The Russians signed off a Turk­ish safe zone in northern Syria, aimed at freeing the border area from Kurdish and Islamic State (ISIS) presence, hoping that once it is 100% secure, millions of Syrian refugees could be resettled in the three cities and what lies between them. In exchange, Putin was given a green light to retake Aleppo in December. Erdogan looked away as his Syrian proxies on the battlefield were expelled from Aleppo by the Russian Army.

    In June, Putin surrendered the Kurdish city of Afrin, west of the Euphrates River, to Turkish ambi­tions, letting Erdogan bomb Kurd­ish military positions and eradicate the presence of militias that Ankara regards as “terrorist organisations.”

    Details on who will control what are to be outlined by the big three in August. It has been mutually agreed that Russia will patrol southern Syria, while the United States will control its skies, something that the Syrians also do not like but are in no position to halt.

    For the four de-conflict zones to see the light, a new formula of governance needs to be reached by Syrian negotiators at the UN-man­dated Geneva talks. Running them through the centralised authority of Damascus will no longer work. The Russians are proposing giving the four districts greater self-rule, while keeping them within the Syrian po­litical and geographic framework.

    According to a Russian-authored charter, the new four zones elect their municipality leaders with their own governors, without waiting for appointment or endorsement from Damascus. They will also get a share of their region’s wealth and will be given the right of voting for their own members of local parliaments, which would rule side by side with a central one in Damascus.

    The Russian Army is to make sure that these four zones are de­militarised and made off-limits to government troops, tanks and war­planes. Damascus will get to reo­pen schools, police stations and the border crossings with Jordan and Iraq, which remain in the hands of the Syrian Army. They will also get to raise the official flag of the Syr­ian government but would have to share local authority with the rebels and coordinate efforts to fight Jab­hat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, the ISIS branch in the countryside of Daraa.

    The four zones will not succeed if not backed by a new constitution, explaining why this was the only pressing topic at the Geneva talks. All previously urgent issues have therefore been put on hold, ranging from the creation of a transitional government, on to early presiden­tial and parliamentary elections, in­cluding the fate of the Syrian presi­dent.

    Editors' Picks

    The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

    From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

    Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

    Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Dalal Saoud

    Senior Editor: John Hendel

    Chief Copy Editors: Jonathan Hemming and Richard Pretorius

    Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

    Opinion Section Editor: Claude Salhani

    East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

    Levant Section Editor: Jamal J. Halaby

    Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

    Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

    Senior Correspondents:

    Mahmud el-Shafey (London)

    Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

    Correspondents

    Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

    Dunia El-Zobeidi (London)

    Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

    Rasha Elass - Thomas Seibert (Washington)

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

    Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

    Tel 020 3667 7249

    Mohamed Al Mufti

    Marketing & Advertising Manager

    Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

    Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

    www.alarab.co.uk

    Al Arab Publishing House

    Kensington Centre

    177-179 Hammersmith Road

    London W6 8BS , UK

    Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

    Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

    Follow Us
    © The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved