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Peacemaking in Syria: Barriers and Opportunities

This brief describes past and ongoing mediation attempts, analyzes the reasons behind their failure, and discusses the prospects of mediation in light of the current political landscape.

One of the worst political and humanitarian crises since the Second World War, the civil war in Syria has caused more than 200,000 deaths, displaced half of the country’s population, and effectively re-drawn the demographic map of the Levant, possibly for generations to come. At the crossroads of regional rivalries, marred by mutual intransigence, and defined by hardening sectarianism, the Syrian crisis presents prospective mediators with a tough test, repeatedly described as a “mission impossible”.

Mediation by the Arab League and the United Nations over the last years has failed to find common ground between the Syrian regime and the forces opposing it. As we enter 2015, new mediation initiatives by the United Nations and Russia are underway, but the question is whether these will come up against the barriers that derailed earlier attempts, or if the rise of the Islamic State has shifted the political equation so that new possibilities may emerge.

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