Middle East

Press has dim hopes for Syria ceasefire

A Syrian tank takes position as seen from the Wadi Khalid area near the Syrian border, in northern Lebanon April 12, 2012
Image caption Many papers fear that bloody clashes will resume

There is almost universal scepticism in the press in the Middle East as well as further afield about the fragile UN-Arab League-brokered ceasefire in Syria. A state-run Syrian newspaper accused the opposition of violating it, while a pan-Arab newspaper said the plan was "born to fail". A Russian analyst also doubted that the ceasefire would last, but there was cautious optimism in China and Germany.

Government "procrastinating"

In Syria itself, the government-owned newspaper Tishrin accused the opposition of violating the UN-brokered ceasefire, but said the authorities remained committed to Kofi Annan's plan.

"As expected, the armed groups continue to carry out terrorist operations against innocent citizens in a clear violation of the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's plan," a commentary by Zyad Ghusn said. It went on to urge pressure to be applied not only on President Bashar al-Assad's opponents, but also on "some states which support and fund these armed groups".

Qatar's al-Rayah, however, accused the government in Damascus of dragging its feet over implementing the peace plan.

"Although the ceasefire in Syria has begun, the regime is still procrastinating in applying the first item of Annan's plan, which includes the withdrawal of the army and heavy weaponry from cities and towns," an editorial in the paper said. "It is clear that army deployment in many cities and towns aims to prevent demonstrators from reaching main squares to protest and demand the toppling of the regime."

'Born to fail'

Lebanon's al-Nahar, an independent centrist newspaper, feared that further violence in Syria was inevitable. "The regime will not accept any demonstrations that might contribute to its downfall. It will not accept the opposition. It will not hesitate to re-deploy its tanks and military forces to resume bloody confrontations backed by major powers such as Russia and China, and also backed by Iran, which has supported it with arms and men," a commentary by Rajih al-Khuri said.

Al-Quds al-Arabi, a London-based pan-Arab newspaper, was similarly downbeat. "The only thing the Syrian regime and the opposition agree on is that they both want Annan's mission to fail. The regime wants to finish the opposition using destructive force while the opposition wants to finish the regime by foreign military intervention," the paper said in an editorial, adding that "Annan's initiative was born to fail".

Jordanian newspaper al-Arab al-Yawm said not enough was being done to put an end to the bloodshed in Syria. An article by Ruhayil Gharabiya accused the international community of "complicity with the massacres perpetrated by the Syrian regime" and said that a campaign was under way to reverse the course of the Arab Spring.

Call for observers

In Russia, hopes were pinned on the deployment of observers to Syria. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a heavyweight centrist daily, said this would help end the violence and also stimulate dialogue between the government and the opposition. "This will serve as a guarantee for restoring stability in Syria. But there is still a very long way to go," Nikolay Surkov wrote in the daily.

But there were doubts, too. Speaking on radio Ekho Moskvy on 12 April, Vladimir Sazhin, a senior research fellow at the Oriental Studies Institute, said Kofi Annan's plan was hampered by a lack of unity among the Syrian opposition. "The opposition is so diverse that talking about the entire opposition does not seem particularly sensible to me. A single shot from one of the opposition groupings is all it takes for everything to start up once again. So I doubt that this will be a long-lived truce," Sazhin said.

Turkey's centrist newspaper Milliyet was pessimistic, too. "The 'ceasefire' in Syria has been violated on the very first day," Guneri Civaoglu said in a commentary. "It is not going to work because although the tanks have been withdrawn, the troops are still in the streets," the paper said.

"First step"

The media in China were more upbeat. Renmin Ribao, the domestic edition of Chinese Communist Party newspaper People's Daily, said that "the overall situation in the whole of Syria has improved considerably". "Compared with the clashes that easily killed over 100 people a few days ago, the scope and scale of the conflict have been narrowed down greatly," Li Yida and Huang Peizhao argued in the paper.

In another article published in the paper, senior editor Zhong Sheng said that "the situation is not optimistic", but Annan's mediation efforts "have finally achieved the first step in important progress".

The China Daily, another state-run newspaper, agreed that "hopes for a complete and permanent cessation of hostilities remain frail". "This is now a critical stage for reaching a political settlement and China is doing all it can to support Annan's efforts," a commentary in the paper said.

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung had doubts about the longevity of the ceasefire but hoped it would put an end to the violence. "An incomplete cease-fire is certainly better than continued murder and, as Obama puts it, the 'unacceptable brutality' against his own people," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger said in a commentary. "Now the priority must be to work towards a political process for the time after Assad," he added.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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