Wonderful news in Syria, but…

So here’s good news from Syria, of all places:

Syria has given approval for humanitarian convoys to reach all of the country’s besieged areas by the end of this month, the United Nations has said, but warned that “approval … does not mean delivery”.

Nearly 600,000 people are besieged in 19 areas in Syria, with two-thirds trapped by government forces and the rest besieged by armed opposition groups and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) group.

“We were informed by our team in Damascus that basically there has been a permission, an approval … by the government of Syria for all 19 besieged areas,” the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said on Thursday.

Now for the “but”: giving approval isn’t the same thing as actually following through on that approval, and these humanitarian arrangements have fallen through in the past. There’s also every reason to believe that these convoys will be a one-off operation, which is nothing to sneeze at but also means that everybody will be right back in the same desperate situation, begging permission from the Assad regime to allow food to reach people who are starving to death, in a few months.

Now here’s the other “but”: this positive development comes on the same day when Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers may have just resolved to reject any potential Syrian ceasefire. Defense Ministers from Russia, Syria, and Iran met in Tehran earlier today and their consensus, as expressed by Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, appears to be that they will only go along with a hypothetical ceasefire that “doesn’t help terrorists to get more powerful.” Given the rather expansive definition of “terrorist” that the three allies have been using in their dealings with the Syrian rebels, and the degree to which Jabhat al-Nusra, an obvious terrorist group, and Ahrar al-Sham, an ideologically problematic if not obviously terrorist group, have embedded themselves within the wider rebellion, this is probably an impossible standard for any ceasefire to meet.

In other Syria news, French special forces are now, per “a French official” who was speaking to the AP, providing arms, advice, and training to the Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria. This doesn’t mean much on the battlefield, I don’t think–US special forces are already doing all these things for the SDF as well–but it is another NATO ally slapping Turkey in the face just a little bit by agreeing to work so closely with the Kurdish-dominated SDF. Not that I’m saying they’re wrong to do it (the SDF is the most reliable anti-ISIS force in northern and eastern Syria, and France is certainly more worried about defeating ISIS than it is about assuaging Ankara’s feelings), but geopolitically there could certainly be some fallout from this.


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