THE SYRIAN cease-fire has achieved diplomatic zombie status: It is dead but lives on in the otherworldly rhetoric of its promoters, headed by the Obama administration. Heavy fighting has resumed in several parts of the country, including south of Aleppo, in the coastal province of Latakia and in the suburbs of Damascus. Humanitarian aid deliveries have virtually ceased. Airstrikes killed dozens of civilians in two rebel-held towns in Idlib province on Tuesday. In Geneva, the head of the opposition’s delegation said it would not return to U.N.-sponsored peace talks until the government stopped its attacks and allowed aid convoys to enter besieged areas.
The U.S. response to this renewed carnage has been to point out, weakly, that not every part of Syria has returned to all-out war. “More Syrian people are living better lives as a result of the cessation than they were before,” State Department spokesman John Kirby declared Monday. Unfortunately, such rhetoric appears to be all the United States has to offer. Since President Obama refuses to take steps such as creating a safe zone for refugees or stepping up aid to the rebels, the United States lacks leverage over the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian and Iranian allies.
The Assad regime breached the cease-fire from its inception in late February. It has continued to assault strategic territory in the Damascus suburbs and around Aleppo, which is split between opposition and government-controlled areas. It has blocked humanitarian convoys and stripped some of those it has allowed of vital medical equipment, in direct violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, which set the terms for the cease-fire. U.N. officials reported last week that there had been only four aid operations this month and that less than 1 percent of besieged civilians had been supplied.
In Geneva, the regime’s negotiators have flatly rejected the Security Council’s terms for a settlement, which begin with the creation of a transitional government. In Damascus, the prime minister brazenly announced that preparations were underway “with our Russian partners” to “liberate” the rebel-held side of Aleppo, which would require a major new offensive and months of bloody fighting. Russia, which portrays itself as the United States’ co-sponsor of the cease-fire , has done nothing to rein in the regime. On the contrary, its planes continue to back up government forces near Aleppo, weeks after the “withdrawal” ostentatiously staged by Vladimir Putin.
The White House reported Monday that Mr. Obama had spoken to Mr. Putin by telephone about the unraveling cease-fire. A statement suggested he covered all the bases, including “the importance of pressing the Syrian regime to halt its offensive attacks against the opposition,” the urgency of humanitarian access and the need for progress toward a political solution. But there was no indication that Mr. Putin was given any incentive to respond cooperatively, other than an appeal to his goodwill. If that’s the case, the cease-fire will remain a zombie.