OP: This article is a little old (Sept. 21st) but discusses important issues with regards to recent events in Syria, including the problems with the recent (failed) negotiated truce.
An aid convoy was hit on Monday, killing 20 civilians.
While US Secretary of State John Kerry is not giving up on the idea of a ceasefire in Syria, it is very hard to see his efforts bearing fruit.
Few details of the deal agreed by the Russians and Americans have been released. There was indeed something of a decline in hostilities, though no comprehensive calm.
The ceasefire was supposed to open the way to aid deliveries in Syria, followed by the rolling out of a co-ordinated military campaign by Moscow and Washington against so-called Islamic State (IS) targets and other groups linked to al-Qaeda.
In practice the latest attacks on the aid convoy and hospital seem to have taken things back to square one. Indeed the cynicism of the attack on the convoy in particular is remarkable.
The Russians have shown drone footage of their monitoring of the convoy, the route and location of which were pre-announced. But what happened next is disputed.
The U.S. holds Russia responsible for the attack on the aid convoy.
The Americans are hinting strongly that the convoy was attacked from the air by a pair of Sukhoi Su-24 jets - either Russian or Syrian. It makes little difference to Washington, which holds Moscow responsible either way.
In contrast, the Russians deny any culpability; they say their aircraft were not in the area and that the destruction of the convoy was the result of action on the ground - the implication is from rebel forces.
Quite what purpose anyone had in destroying the convoy is unclear, other than to jeopardise the ceasefire. But the seeds of its collapse were there from the outset.
Firstly, the ceasefire was negotiated not between the warring parties on the ground but by two of their patrons - the US and Russia - who are both engaged in the conflict, in different ways and with very different goals.
The Syrian Government and the various rebel factions were not involved.
Secondly, neither the Russians nor the Americans were able to convince their allies to accept the deal. Moscow had the easier job, to convince the Assad regime, which is hugely dependent upon Russia.
The Americans were able to convince some of the rebel groups to back the deal - but many others did not. Indeed many of them have no particular relationship with the Americans.
Recent airstrikes in Aleppo have caused major setbacks to those seeking to deliver aid.
Furthermore, the complex and untidy nature of the Syrian battlefield with multiple localised conflicts going on across the country, prosecuted by a variety of actors, made the idea of any ceasefire difficult from the outset.
The idea that the guns should fall silent in one war - between the Assad government and a variety of rebel groups - while the US and Russia put their foot on the accelerator in another battle against IS is a little bizarre.
Any hammering of IS would create local vacuums into which one or other actor, the government or the rebels, might step.
In any case many at the Pentagon (and probably one would imagine some inside the Russian Defence Ministry as well) were far from enthusiastic about the proposed joint military campaign against IS.
If there was insufficient trust at the outset, then the attack on the aid convoy and the recriminations between Washington and Moscow now, have only made matters worse.
The conflict seems to be heading for a brutal stalemate as the fighting continues. The Assad regime is too weak to retake all the areas of the country it has lost. The rebel opposition too weak to seriously challenge it beyond the areas it already holds.
The Kurds as well as the Turkish incursion into Syria add an additional level of complexity to the problem. And as mentioned above the continued assault on IS will change the strategic map in Syria whatever happens elsewhere.
OP: An important note here though: the article above does NOT mention the fact that the ceasefire was initially called off by the Assad regime after the U.S. killed more than 60 Syrian government soldiers and injured another 100 in a bombing raid (the U.S. claimed the airstrike was meant to target Islamic State forces near the Deir ez-Zour airport in eastern Syria). I'm rather surprised the above article doesn't mention this.
The article below provides a guide to who the (many) parties are in this devastating conflict (i.e. the article is from March 15th, 2016).
Syria war: Why is there fighting in Syria?
What began as a peaceful uprising against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad five years ago became a full-scale civil war that has left more than 250,000 people dead, devastated the country and drawn in global powers.
Why is there a war in Syria?
Long before the conflict began, many Syrians complained about high unemployment, widespread corruption, a lack of political freedom, and a state repression under President Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father, Hafez, in 2000.
Protests in the southern city of Deraa in March 2011 were suppressed by security forces.
In March 2011, pro-democracy demonstrations inspired by the Arab Spring erupted in the southern city of Deraa. The government's use of deadly force to crush the dissent soon triggered nationwide protests demanding the president's resignation.
As the unrest spread, the crackdown intensified. Opposition supporters began to take up arms, first to defend themselves and later to expel security forces from their local areas. Mr Assad vowed to crush "foreign-backed terrorism" and restore state control.
The city of Homs, dubbed "the capital of the revolution" suffered widespread destruction.
The violence rapidly escalated and the country descended into civil war as hundreds of rebel brigades were formed to battle government forces for control of the country.
Why has the war lasted so long?
Government forces have lost control of large swathes of the country to various armed groups.
In essence, it has become more than just a battle between those for or against Mr Assad.
A key factor has been the intervention of regional and world powers, including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Their military, financial and political support for the government and opposition has contributed directly to the intensification and continuation of the fighting, and turned Syria into a proxy battleground.
External powers have also been accused of fostering sectarianism in what was a broadly secular state, pitching the country's Sunni majority against the president's Shia Alawite sect. Such divisions have encouraged both sides to commit atrocities that have not only caused loss of life but also torn apart communities, hardened positions and dimmed hopes for a political settlement.
The northern Syrian city of Raqqa is the [Syrian] headquarters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).
Jihadist groups have also seized on the divisions, and their rise has added a further dimension to the war. So-called Islamic State (IS), which controls large parts of northern and eastern Syria, is battling government forces, rebel brigades and Kurdish groups on the ground, as well as facing air strikes by Russia and a US-led multinational coalition.
Why are so many outside powers involved?
Russia's air campaign aimed to "stabilise" the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia, for whom President Assad's survival is critical to maintaining its interests in Syria, launched an air campaign in September 2015 with the aim of "stabilising" the government after a series of defeats. Moscow stressed that it would target only "terrorists", but activists said its strikes mainly hit Western-backed rebel groups.
Six months later, having turned the tide of the war in his ally's favour, President Vladimir Putin ordered the "main part" of Russia's forces to withdraw, saying their mission had "on the whole" been accomplished.
Rebels have received only limited military assistance from Western powers opposed to Mr Assad.
Shia power Iran is believed to be spending billions of dollars a year to bolster the Alawite-dominated government, providing military advisers and subsidised weapons, as well as lines of credit and oil transfers. It is also widely reported to have deployed hundreds of combat troops in Syria.
Mr Assad is Iran's closest Arab ally and Syria is the main transit point for Iranian weapons shipments to the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support government forces.
The US, which says President Assad is responsible for widespread atrocities and must step down, has provided only limited military assistance to "moderate" rebels, fearful that advanced weapons might end up in the hands of jihadists. Since September 2014, the US has conducted air strikes on IS in Syria, but it has avoided attacking government forces.
A US-led coalition has been conducting air strikes on Islamic State in Syria since 2014.
Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which is seeking to counter the influence of its rival Iran, has been a major provider of military and financial assistance to the rebels, including those with Islamist ideologies.
Turkey, another staunch supporter of the rebels, has meanwhile sought to limit US support for Kurdish forces battling IS militants in northern Syria, accusing them of being affiliated to the banned Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
What impact has the war had?
There are no reliably accurate statistics on the number of people killed or wounded in the fighting.
The UN says 250,000 people have been killed in the past five years. However, the organisation stopped updating its figures in August 2015. One monitoring group puts the death toll at 270,000, while a think-tank recently estimated that the conflict had caused 470,000 deaths, either directly or indirectly.
More than 4.8 million people have fled Syria, most of them women and children. Neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have struggled to cope with one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history.
About 10% of Syrian refugees have sought safety in Europe, sowing political divisions as countries argue over sharing the burden. A further 6.5 million people are internally displaced inside Syria.
Almost half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million has been displaced by the war.
The UN says it will need $3.2bn to help the 13.5 million people, including six million children, who will require some form of humanitarian assistance inside Syria in 2016. About 70% of the population is without access to adequate drinking water, one-in-three people are unable to meet their basic food needs, more than two million children are out of school, and four out of five people live in poverty.
The warring parties have compounded the problems by refusing humanitarian agencies access to many of those in need. Some 4.6 million people live in hard-to-reach areas, including almost 500,000 people in besieged locations.
What's being done to end the fighting?
Previous attempts by the U.N. to broker a political settlement have failed.
With neither side able to inflict a decisive defeat on the other, the international community long ago concluded that only a political solution could end the conflict. The UN Security Council has called for the implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communique, which envisages a transitional governing body with full executive powers "formed on the basis of mutual consent".
Peace talks in early 2014, known as Geneva II, broke down after only two rounds, with the UN blaming the Syrian government's refusal to discuss opposition demands.
A year later, the conflict with IS lent fresh impetus to the search for a political solution in Syria. The US and Russia persuaded representatives of the warring parties to attend "proximity talks" in Geneva in January 2016 to discuss a Security Council-endorsed road map for peace, including a ceasefire and a transitional period ending with elections.
A local truce in the Homs suburb of al-Wair in December [of 2015] allowed rebel fighters to be evacuated.
The first round broke down while still in the "preparatory" phase, as government forces launched a major offensive to around the northern city of Aleppo. But the talks resumed in March 2016, two weeks after after the US and Russia brokered a nationwide, but partial, "cessation of hostilities" that Washington said saw the level of violence fall by up to 90%.
OP: Here is a figure from this reference, which summarizes many of the parties and ‘sides’ involved in this war (i.e. notably absent is the Turkey - Kurdish/PKK conflict).
Also, in related tragic news, one of the largest medical hospitals in Aleppo was recently bombed for the second time this week.
Also, as I said in an earlier post on this war, it's important to note that this is a conflict where no one's hands are clean. The Assad regime's crimes against humanity have been documented,.while US-backed rebel groups are also guilty of crimes against humanity, according to Amnesty International.
Fighting intensified in Aleppo fairly recently (i.e. prior to the truce). Here is an earlier post of mine on this.
Here is another post of mine on this, dealing with the use of chemical weapons in this conflict.
If you are not clear on Islamic State and its origins, here is a previous post of mine on this as well.
OP: The level of fuckery in this war... Please heed the trigger warnings for these posts.