Following significant diplomatic pressure, and faced with the possibility of losing Russian and Chinese backing, the Syrian government signed up to a UN ceasefire plan.
For now, in some regions, there is an uneasy peace. In other areas the truce has collapsed already.
Between the “ceasefire” formally coming into force on Thursday 13 April and the arrival of the first UN observers four days later, at least 41 people, mostly civilians, were reported killed.
Syria has signed up to remove its tanks, weapons and troops from urban centres — but it has failed to do so. And the army was shelling Homs, and fighting the armed opposition in Idlib, on Monday. Assad knows if he removes the army the opposition will take over many Syrian cities.
The emir of Qatar said he believed there was little chance of the plan, brokered by Kofi Annan, working. He again advocated arming the opposition fighters of the Free Syrian Army. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the most prominent and powerful of the Arab Sunni states in open opposition to the Syrian leadership. They are no democrats, but are looking to shift power in the region and deal a blow to Syria’s backer, Iran.
Scepticism about the prospects for the Annan plan is also common among anti-regime activists — and with good reason: Assad has reneged on deals before, and if he carries out this agreement to the letter (and despite the fact that it formally leaves open the question of government) he will in fact be relinquishing power.
Russia has been central to forcing the regime to accept the Annan deal. They — together with the Western powers — are eager for some sort of settlement.
They fear all the more likely futures facing Syria — full scale civil war with the possibility of a rapid growth of an Islamist insurgency.