UN resolution 2254, mandating last week's Syria peace talks in Geneva, required an end to airstrikes and humanitarian relief for suffering civilians. Absent either any relief from the continuous onslaught from Syrian government forces and Russian planes, or permission for food and medical supplies to enter rebel-held town, there wasn't a prayer the opposition forces would engage in meaningful talks. And they didn't.
After three days, on Wednesday, UN mediator Staffan de Mistura, who said he saw no point in “talk for the sake of talking”, pulled the plug, temporarily suspending the fledgling talks until February 25th. The resumption, more a hope than a real expectation. The opposition’s higher negotiations committee warned it was leaving and would “not return until it sees progress on the ground”.
Ceasefire hopes were dampened by Syria’s foreign minister who said it would be impossible to stop the fighting while rebels were able to pass freely across the Turkish and Jordanian borders .
US secretary of state, John Kerry, accused Moscow and Damascus of seeking a military solution to the war. Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov responded with breathtaking cynicism that "Russian strikes will not cease until we really defeat terrorist organisations like [the al-Qaida-linked] Jabhat al-Nusra. And I don't see why these air strikes should be stopped." Most of Russian bombing continues to target mainstream opposition forces. Little wonder few expect an early resumption of talks.
The collapse coincided with Thursday’s pledging conference where rich nations pledged $10 billion to help those displaced by the conflict and to prepare for new waves of refugees. Almost $6 billion of the new pledges was for this year, while $5 billion was committed for 2017 through 2020 – a measure of the calculation that if peace talks are not going to stem the migrant flow, the west has to do much more to make bearable the conditions of refugees in Syria’s neighbouring states.
Meanwhile advances on the ground in recent days by government forces supported by heavy Russian bombing, particularly in the northern province of Aleppo, which build on earlier gains in Daraa in the south and Latakia in the north, are sending thousands more refugees towards the Turkish border. Government forces and pro-government militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, have cut the main supply route for weapons and humanitarian aid north of Aleppo, and the UN fears that the severing of one important border crossing may prevent food and medicine from reaching 325,000 people .
The government advances have also prompted offers from both Saudi Arabia and the UAE to send in ground forces to bolster the non-Isis resistance forces against Isis. Any prospect of peace seems further away than ever.