Halting Hostilities
at the Local Level

Reactions to proposals for negotiating local ceasefires were different from reactions to calls for a national-level political settlement: many Syrian participants on both sides were open to the idea. Some welcomed them as an incremental step toward peace. However, others preferred to see the fighting stopped nationally rather than piecemeal and locally. Most important, neither side trusts the other’s motives or willingness to uphold agreements. Opinion among respondents is also split on ending local sieges.

Yet despite their intransigence and suspicion, those on both sides would welcome the fruits of local ceasefires, particularly greater mobility and normality. Thus, the attitudes of Syrians on the question of local accords are conflicted and ambivalent. However, there are limits to the potential for local-level cooperation: reactions were polarized between the contending sides regarding the restoration of regime control after ceasefires, while security coordination between them was rejected by both.

Many Support Local Ceasefires to Stop the Bloodshed

Respondents were divided on the idea of local ceasefires. They were aware of such initiatives around Al-Hosn Castle (a historic site east of Tartous), Homs, Al-Ghouta (in the eastern Damascus suburbs), and Aleppo (prior to the high-profile UN effort there by Steffan de Mistura). They split on the desirability of local truces in their own areas, but their views on such efforts were considerably more positive than their reactions to national negotiations.

Many war-weary Syrians on both sides, especially in violence-hit areas, support local ceasefire negotiations to end the fighting. They hope that areas of peace will expand as residents elsewhere follow their example.

I have heard of such negotiations. Insha’Allah that they will continue. Maybe we can reach a solution in this country.
— Sunni woman (pro-regime), 30, Aleppo

We want peace and safety for all Syrians. If security starts to spread throughout our area and other areas, then that is a great thing. It does not matter where it starts, as it is important that it does start.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 26, Hamah

Many pro-regime respondents, mostly in Damascus and Tartous, were amenable to the idea of local ceasefires among Syrians because they saw them as means to consolidate government control, eliminate the power of foreign forces, and make Syrians the key actors in their own country.

These negotiations happen in governorates and it is a very excellent idea because it is between Syrians themselves. These negotiations clear out hearts and return those lost into the lap of our home country. After that, everyone can have time to fight strangers and banish them from our country.
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 30, Tartous

I, as a Syrian citizen who loves the country, want those negotiations to start for this conflict to end. Enough with the destruction that is happening in this great country. The good thing about those negotiations is that they are between the Syrian people. — Alawi man (pro-regime), 44, Damascus

Thus, pro-regime respondents, for their part, had somewhat different reasons for favoring local truces than did regime opponents, including strengthening their side and expelling foreign fighters. In the anti-regime camp, those favoring such efforts simply wanted a halt to the violence and hoped that calm would spread to the rest of the country.

Mistrust, Fear of Regime Victories, and Hostility to Talks Hamper Local Ceasefire Negotiations

Many respondents who were hostile towards local-level ceasefire negotiations offered a variety of reasons. Some did not trust the other side to uphold agreements and therefore don’t support the idea of local talks.

How would you trust someone who destroyed your house just yesterday? How would you trust someone who has killed and robbed and destroyed in the name of religion, when they know nothing about religion?
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 55, Damascus

I have friends that I grew up with in the same school, and before school we lived in the same house, between the same walls. We were raised together and lived together. And now they carry a weapon against us. They shoot us and attack us; they became the bullies. Those with whom I was raised did this to me, so how would I trust someone I was not raised with and do not even know?
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 25, Hamah

Some anti-regime respondents saw national negotiations as a trap to ensnare the opposition, citing prior examples involving local negotiations and truce efforts around religious holidays.

These are weak and absurd negotiations, because the regime will evade [an agreement]. It happened in Homs and Al-Hosn Castle, and on occasions like Eid Al-Adha, Eid Al-Fitr, and with the end of Ramadan, and in Hamah, but the regime quickly broke it. They want to fulfill certain objectives, make arrests, or clean up a certain area, claiming to clean. Then they break the agreement and continue its goals.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 40, Raqqah

The (local) negotiations are fictional with no credibility. They did not even last for a week. The traitor Bashar al-Assad and his followers broke the contract and started the attack again.
— Kurdish woman (anti-regime), 23, Al-Hasakah

A regime opponent saw such accords as a government ruse to win support abroad. “These negotiations are just talk. They are only attempts by the supporters of the regime to show the world that there is freedom in Syria,” said a Sunni man, age 32, from Aleppo.

To some, regime opponents negotiating with representatives of the regime, even locally, would be a sign of weakness; to others, it would be a betrayal of those who have died for the revolution.

As long as we are negotiating with the current regime, [these types of local] negotiations will not be in our favor. The regime must fall first, and after it does, we can begin to state what is it what we, the people, want.
— Sunni, man, (Anti-regime), 27, Aleppo

We care about nothing except not selling our martyrs’ blood and sacrifices.
— Kurdish woman (anti-regime), 23, Al-Hasakah

Some regime supporters hold similar views of negotiating with the opposition. Seeing themselves as the stronger party, they feel no need to compromise, particularly with people they regard as terrorists and foreign agents.

There are no negotiations with the terrorists. Why would we negotiate with those people when it is we who rule and have the arms and dominate the area?
— Sunni man (pro-regime), 37, Homs

[Calls for] negotiations were from the weak side. We offered negotiations before the start of the events, but unfortunately all the countries interfered to get weapons in and start the war. These negotiations now with the terrorists are futile; it has no result. What do these mercenaries want with Syria’s interests that they come to negotiate the regime?
— Alawi man (pro-regime), 34, Tartous

Some Want a National Ceasefire

Despite the widespread opposition to formal national-level political negotiations, when the issue of local ceasefire negotiations was raised, many on both sides of the political divide said they would prefer to halt the struggle nationally.  While many people wanted the fighting to end nationally with their side winning, as noted above, others wanted the fighting to end but rejected local ceasefires because they feel people in all parts of Syria deserve to live in peace

[A national ceasefire] would be good because in this case, the political answer to the conflict should be chosen over violence since it spares blood and souls. Of course [ceasefires will last] because as Syrians, we don’t hate each other and we know that the conflict should be settled like this to save the bloodshed.
— Christian man (pro-regime), 28, Damascus

If there are agreements that means there must be agreements for all of Syria, not just for a certain area only. Otherwise we will be helping divide Syria.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 28, Aleppo

Strong Desire for Freer Movement
and More Normal Life

Participants expressed a nearly universal wish for the greater freedom of movement and normality that local ceasefires would produce, despite their divisions on the local ceasefires themselves. Almost all respondents, pro- and anti-regime alike, expressed a desire for greater mobility and freedoms such as allowing students to attend exams, facilitating aid deliveries, and allowing free movement across territory held by different groups to get to work, health care, and the like.

We need to work very hard to make this (students’ freedom to take exams) come true, because the students have done nothing wrong, and they do not deserve to lose their education.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 38, refugee, Turkey

We are with all the Syrian people for them to get aid, even the people that are standing against the regime. Humanitarian aid has to be delivered; maybe they will know the value of the regime in the coming time when the regime regains control on all of Syria.
— Alawi man (pro-regime), 34, Tartous

[Free movement] should definitely be accomplished, because people have jobs and benefits to keep that have been halted for years now. They should be able to move freely in order for them to get back to their jobs and in order for life to get back to the way it was.
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 55, Damascus

Moving freely is a very important part of securing all people’s needs, especially medication for the sick and treatment for the wounded and others.
— Christian man (anti-regime), 29, IDP, Homs

Syrians are thus conflicted about local ceasefire negotiations, wanting the benefits local accords could provide but divided and ambivalent over the means.

Views of Ending Local Sieges Mixed

Just as with local ceasefire negotiations, similar dynamics are at work regarding efforts to end sieges at the local level. Some respondents would welcome the end of local sieges, but again, pro- and anti-regime supporters had somewhat different reasons.

Wherever negotiations happen and sieges end, that is good and a blessing. It will be key to other areas.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 25, Raqqah

I am with this idea. Maybe in the rest of the areas, the terrorists will turn themselves in, and give freedom to the people to live in safety and peace.
— Alawi man (pro-regime), 34, Tartous

As in the discussion of local ceasefire negotiations, some of those who favored ending local sieges wanted to halt them around the country and not just locally.

[Ending sieges in particular localities] will ease things a little bit from the war’s effects and the sufferings of people, but we need a comprehensive solution for all Syria and all Syria regions and all the Syrian people.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 40, Raqqah

I support this thing (ending local sieges) but I am not convinced of it. The siege should end in all the areas because I feel the suffering of people and their patience.
— Christian woman (pro-regime), 21, Tartous

Regime supporters tended to favor ending sieges only after the regime restores control.

Ending the fight or siege in some areas and regaining control over them would be after eliminating all the terrorists within these areas and restoring peace and security by the army into every area they clear.
— Kurdish man (pro-regime), 32, Al-Hasakah

Terrorist groups should be uprooted, then there wouldn’t be any siege.
—Alawi woman (pro-regime), 55, Damascus

Views of Regime Control After
Local Ceasefires Polarized

Reactions to the possibility that local ceasefires would restore regime control split respondents by their views of the regime, as might be expected.

Among respondents, regime supporters saw regime control as the only possible outcome of local ceasefires. This includes the power to make arrests, which they saw as the regime’s right. Regime opponents saw restoration of regime control as the worst possible outcome.

Surely yes, Assad’s government must control all of Syria and all the areas the terrorists go to, and they should be arrested and punished for their actions. This is a lawful right to protect the rest of the people from the brutality and monstrosity of those terrorists.
— Alawi man (pro-regime), 34, Tartous

We will never accept this (renewed regime control) in any way. The situation will never be fixed if the regime regains control. This tyrant has bombed the city with chemical weapons and has killed thousands of innocent souls, so we will never accept such negotiations or such a government.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 26, Hamah

Security Coordination between Sides Rejected

Despite a broadly-shared desire for both sides to work together to ease the burdens of the conflict on Syrians’ lives, the idea that the pro and anti-regime forces might work together to promote security in their areas went too far for most participants in the study. Most respondents on both sides rejected any proposal that explicitly requires regime-rebel cooperation for security, such as joint patrols or checkpoints, reflecting the widespread and intense mistrust they feel.

No one would ever settle for something like [security coordination]. Would you accept to share with a thief or an enemy the job of protecting your house? Of course not. No one would ever accept such solution.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 35, IDP, Homs

Those are not rebels, they are terrorists and the only ruler is the regime. They shouldn’t even be in the country, never mind have joint checkpoints. How would the government come together with those who destroyed the country? We can’t feel safe around them. They should leave.
— Alawi man (pro-regime), 44, Damascus

Summary of Findings on Halting
Hostilities at the Local Level

Opportunities to wind down the violence in Syria appear more promising at the local level than nationally at the moment, although attitudes on such efforts are conflicted. Many supported local ceasefires and ending local sieges, although many were reluctant to endorse them, reflecting the high levels of mistrust, anger, and fear prevailing. However, almost all long for the greater freedom of movement and normality that such efforts might produce. The re-establishment of regime control after such initiatives inspired predictably polarized responses, while neither side is willing to accept joint security coordination. Thus, there are some openings to reconciliation, although the paths are narrow and Syrian respondents feel ambivalent about them. Nevertheless, our respondents were willing to discuss how they might proceed as the next section will show.

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