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Seizing the opportunity for a lasting peace

Zoom  Zoom Issue Date:2017-07-17   Browse:1178
July could be a key month amid cautious optimism generated by the latest encouraging developments in Syria and Iraq
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi went to Mosul, his country's second-largest city, over the weekend to declare a military victory over the forces of the Islamic State group who invaded in mid-2014.
It does not signal an immediate end to the fighting. Mopping up operations will continue as the remnants of the IS force harass the city's liberators.
In neighboring Syria, meanwhile, a ceasefire brokered by the United States, Russia and Jordan brought some unaccustomed calm to three of the country's provinces.
Optimism has been in short supply in the Middle East during more than half a decade of conflict that followed the so-called Arab Spring. But the latest developments in Iraq and Syria, two countries most affected by the violence, give rise to hopes that it might be at least the beginning of the end of the slaughter.
Seizing the opportunity for a lasting peace
Developments in the Middle East, and international efforts to resolve them, will figure high on the current agenda of the United Nations Security Council, of which China began its rotating one-month presidency in early July.
China's ambassador to the United Nations, Liu Jieyi, told reporters in New York that meetings on Iraq and Syria would be among 30 sessions during China's tenure dedicated to crises that continue on four continents.
He said that on Syria, the Security Council would focus mainly on the political process, chemical weapons and humanitarian conditions. July was a crucial month for addressing the Syrian crisis, according to Liu, because new peace talks were opening in Kazakhstan and Geneva.
For the outside world, attention on the wars in Syria and Iraq has focused on the wider threat posed by IS, which at one time controlled swaths of both countries from its twin, self-proclaimed capitals of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.
As the IS movement has been forced to retreat, its acolytes in Europe and elsewhere have launched a string of attacks in revenge for its battlefield losses. The crushing of IS in the region may not succeed in annihilating the movement worldwide.
However, international consensus is that only political progress in the various Middle Eastern countries affected by conflict will dent the movement's appeal.
The latest Syrian ceasefire, which covers three provinces in the south of the country, follows months of diplomacy involving US President Donald Trump's administration in Washington and the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders met for the first time on the sidelines of last week's G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.
"Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!" Trump posted on Twitter after the cease-fire agreement took effect.
Across the border in Iraq, IS has been worn down by a combination of Iraqi, Kurdish and militia forces, backed by airstrikes launch by a US-led international coalition.
Prime Minister Abadi said in Mosul over the weekend that the only option for remaining IS fighters in the city was now to surrender or die.
July could turn out to be a key month in assessing whether the cautious optimism generated by developments in Syria and Iraq can be seized by the international community to craft a more lasting peace in those two countries and elsewhere in the region.
Geng Shuang, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, commenting on the start of the one-month presidency, said that China, as a permanent member of the Security Council, had always committed itself to helping the Security Council maintain solidarity and coordination, take vigorous action and play a key role in stopping war and upholding peace in the spirit of the UN Charter.
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