BEIRUT (Reuters) - Local ceasefires in Syria may be the best way to ease the suffering of civilians in the absence of a political solution to the three-and-a-half year conflict, researchers from the London School of Economics said on Monday.
In a report that looked at more than 35 local negotiations across Syria since the start of the crisis, they said the international community should support such solutions, even if they have sometimes been problematic.
While two rounds of peace talks between the government and the political opposition this year failed to halt the war, local ceasefires have brought some relief.
“It is unacceptable to postpone international support for local peace initiatives until a top-level political deal is achieved,” the authors of the report ‘Hungry for Peace’ said in a summary.
United Nations Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura met with senior Syria officials in Damascus on Sunday and talked about such initiatives, according to state media.
De Mistura has cited the northern city of Aleppo as an obvious candidate for “incremental freeze zones” to stop localized fighting and allow better access to aid.
They have also been mentioned by the United States and Russia.
Some Western diplomats have raised concerns that local ceasefires could be problematic if government forces use them to gain military advantages, as in some cases in the past.
Syria’s conflict has killed close to 200,000 people and more than 3 million refugees have fled the country, according to the United Nations.
The LSE report looked at ceasefire deals in Homs, the Damascus countryside, Ras al-Ayn in the north and the provision of services in Deraa and Aleppo.
It said local leaders should have a more prominent role in reaching local peace settlements because they can better understand and mobilize their constituents than the Syrian leadership in exile.
It said one of the main obstacles was regional influence and interference.
“Meetings often include actors directly supported by regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran, and in some cases Iranian officers were present in these meetings.”
It also said warring parties may also want the violence to continue because they are able to profit from it economically.
“This war economy ...is beginning to take strong hold over the conflict at many levels, further undermining the chances of peace,” the report said.
Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Oliver Holmes, editing by John Stonestreet