Special to WorldTribune.com
Iran and Turkey, who support opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, negotiated a 48-hour ceasefire on Aug. 12 after a month of behind-the-scenes negotiations.
The ceasefire stopped fighting between Syrian insurgents, backed by Turkey, and Syria’s military and Hizbullah, supported by Iran. The rebel-held town of Zabadani and a pair of Shi’ite Muslim villages in Idlib province were the first to observe the ceasefire.
According to recent reports, nations that support Assad and those that back his opponents have been secretly discussing ways to end the war and turn back the threat from Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). But the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad is seen as a major obstacle to the new diplomatic effort.
Hizbullah has for weeks been trying to take back control of Zabadani from rebel forces. The city is situated about 45 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Damascus and about 10 kilometers from the Lebanon border.
The Shi’ite villages of al-Foua and Kefraya were targeted by an alliance of insurgents that includes the Sunni Islamist Ahrar al-Sham and the Al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
Rebels reportedly fired dozens of rockets into Damascus on Aug. 12 ahead of the arrival of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebel rockets killed one person and wounded 20, while Syrian army airstrikes killed around 30 people in nearby rebel-held areas.
The United States and regional powers including Turkey and Saudi Arabia insist Assad must be removed from power as part of any settlement. Iran and Russia have continued to back Assad.
The Observatory estimates Assad’s control at around 25 percent of Syria. The Assad regime has lost ground in several areas in recent months, which Western officials believe should encourage Assad to negotiate. But he showed no sign of a willingness compromise in a speech last month.