'On Sunday, residents of Moadamiya, a town that lies just outside the Syrian capital, received a draconian ultimatum from Hassan Gandour, a former resident of Moadamiya and the regime's chief negotiator for the town.
The ultimatum demands that Moadamiya be "evacuated of all inhabitants, including civilian residents." It warns that unless a farcical "ceasefire initiative" circulated by Gandour is enacted within fifteen days, "anyone within the town takes his life into his own hands." Finally, it levels a chilling threat at Syrian opposition members: "This war is not yet over. By God, I swear over the anguished cries of our women, children, and fellow residents that we will take revenge."
Multiple foreign policy analysts have supported "local ceasefires" by claiming that they could reduce conflict, restore humanitarian aid, and promote broader reconciliation. Now we see the truth: Moadamiya's "local ceasefire" has culminated in a renewed siege and regime vows that the "war is not yet over." Only this time, residents are less able to defend themselves after ceding weapons in the previous ceasefire.
The experience of Moadamiya shows a general pattern: Assad uses "local ceasefires" as diplomatic companions to his military sieges. He surrounds a town, starves its residents, then offers a "local ceasefire" in exchange for food. After residents surrender weapons or other strategic advantages, Assad resumes the siege and locals are less able to defend themselves. Unfortunately, De Mistura's initiative matches this pattern.
On February 17, 2015, de Mistura announced that he had persuaded Assad to stop shelling Aleppo, while Assad-allied forces backed by Iran cut the last large Aleppo supply line. Assad was exploiting the U.N. ceasefires proposal to legitimate his "local ceasefires" strategy. His message to the rebels: accept my "local ceasefire," which is backed by the U.N. this time, or starve like your compatriots in Moadamiya. Rebels chose a third option. They launched a fierce counterattack, repulsed regime forces, and rejected the deal.
On Tuesday, the Moadamiya local council called for U.N. monitors to enter the town and observe Assad's violations of the ceasefire. De Mistura should work to meet this demand, in Moadamiya and in all towns that have been starved into bogus "local ceasefires." While this is no substitute for Syria-wide democratic transition talks, it is an important step toward putting diplomatic pressure where it really belongs, on Bashar al-Assad.'