Agreement Between IS and Syrian Government Indicates Syrian Civil War is Winding Down
On Saturday morning, the Islamic State (IS) released two women and four children as part of an agreement with the Syrian government. In return, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the Syrian government will release 60 women who are related to IS members, as well as a $27 million ransom. This exchange is the first part of the agreement in which IS will release the 30 people they kidnapped in Syria’s southern province of Sweida.
Prior to the kidnappings, the Sweida province, which is primarily populated by Syria’s minority Druze, hadn’t been subject to the same level of conflict that many other parts of Syria have been for the past seven years. The attacks, carried out this past July, included several suicide bombings, shootings, and stabbings that resulted in at least 216 deaths.
Abeer Shalgheen, one of the women who was released, said, “we were confident that we [would] be set free but at some times (during detention) we were so desperate that we wished the ceiling fell on us.”
On the Friday before the hostages were released, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad met with Russian representatives. Among other things, they discussed a continued commitment to the “destruction of terrorist presence” and a desire to find a long-term political settlement. One indicator that the civil war is winding down is that Syria reopened its borders to Jordan and Golan Heights last Sunday. This move is expected to benefit regional trade and marks the return of Syria’s prewar status as a crucial transit corridor in the region.
President Assad is moving towards victory in Syria in part because of his strategic use of IS. Although the Syrian government has objected to the presence of Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters in Idlib, they have frequently used such groups to undermine their enemy and retake territory.
After Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey agreed to create a demilitarized buffer zone in Idlib this September, the Assad regime transported more than 400 IS fighters into the outskirts of Idlib overnight. The measure was intended to clear IS forces from the area around Al-Bukamal where Iran-backed militia forces have a strong presence, and to build a stronger case for the recapture of Idlib. President Assad’s use of IS to create a climate of extremism that blurs the lines between IS fighters and nationalist rebels is extremely disturbing considering the kidnappings and subsequent killings that IS has carried out throughout the civil war.
Many Syrians are tired of the war and want an end to the violence. One Syrian architect said that he would “pack [his] bags if Assad left, if the rebels came to power.” In many Syrians’ minds, Assad is the lesser evil, and the rebels don’t offer a better way to more freedom or a stable democracy. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, buildings and communities have been destroyed, and around ten million people have been displaced. While Assad’s reconsolidation of power may mean more stability, it is quite likely that the people will be subject to the same repressive rule before the civil war.