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A US-Russian deal aimed at eliminating Syria's chemical weapons may be a breakthrough but it does not pave the way to solving the brutal conflict, analysts and the opposition say.
“The agreement is a first step but not the solution to the Syrian crisis,” said Khattar Abou Diab, Paris-Sud professor of international relations.
“We stand to see the tragedy continue in one form or another, as attention is focused on the chemical issue,” he added.
Saturday's accord, announced in Geneva after three days of talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, sees Syria's chemical arsenal being handed over to the international community and destroyed by mid-2014.
The deal, which Abou Diab dubbed “fragile”, lays out a framework for Damascus to hand over its chemical stockpile, but does not specify how the warring parties can overcome their differences.
The agreement between Washington and Moscow, which support opposing sides in the conflict, averted a possible US-led strike against President Bashar al-Assad's regime after it was accused of using chemical weapons to kill hundreds of people near Damascus on August 21.
A total of more than 110 000 people have been killed in Syria's 30 months of civil war, according to a monitoring group.
More than a year ago, the US and Russia had agreed to prepare a conference dubbed Geneva II that would bring rebels and regime representatives to the negotiating table.
But that initiative has all but stalled amid fundamental disagreements, particularly over who should represent the warring parties at the talks.
The main opposition National Coalition insists that Assad's regime must not be represented at Geneva II, while Damascus says Assad will remain in power until elections scheduled for 2014 are held.
“Without agreement from the Coalition and its regional and international backers, there can be no political solution in Syria,” said Abou Diab.
The Paris-based analyst also said he doubts Damascus will fully comply with its international pledges.
“The regime will start to manoeuvre when inspectors start arriving, and to manipulate the locations” of the weapons, said Abou Diab.
The deal gives Assad a week to hand over details of his regime's arsenal in order to avert unspecified sanctions and the threat of US-led military strikes.
It also specifies there must be immediate access for arms control experts and that inspections of what the US says is about 45 sites linked to the Syrian chemical weapons programme must be completed by November.
Olivier Lepick of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris said he thought it was “complete fantasy” for Syrian stockpiles to be destroyed by mid-2014.
“Given the civil war, I don't think it can happen... In peacetime it would take years to dismantle Syria's chemical arsenal,” he said.
Even if Damascus's chemical stockpile is handed over on time, the deal does nothing to bridge the irreconcilable visions of the regime, the opposition and their backers on the framework of Geneva II.
Coalition member Samir Nashar said that although the weapons deal may in principle help pave the way towards peace, questions remain about Assad's role in an eventual settlement.
The Coalition is “very sceptical, and even rejects taking part in Geneva II if the people who have committed the killings are not put on trial”, Nashar told AFP.
The veteran dissident also said the US-Russian deal gave Assad's regime “more breathing space”.
Bassam Abu Abdullah, director of the Damascus Centre for Strategic Studies, saw in the deal a chance for the Syrian regime to play a leading role in a future solution.
The agreement “reinstates (Damascus's) legitimacy... and we will see how these adjustments will play out in Geneva II”, he told AFP.
“The chemical file was the key to all doors,” Abu Abdullah said.
But a high-ranking Syrian official told AFP the deal would only put Damascus back on the road to peace if it is coupled with an accord to cut off the supply of weapons to foreign-backed rebels.
The rebels themselves have rejected the deal, warning that it would not halt the conflict.
“Are we Syrians supposed to wait until mid-2014, to continue being killed every day and to accept (the deal) just because the chemical arms will be destroyed in 2014?” asked rebel Free Syrian Army chief General Selim Idriss. - Sapa-AFP