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5 years after the spark, Syria war at a critical juncture

BEIRUT — After five years of bloodshed — after a quarter of a million deaths, and the flight of millions of refugees — Syria has arrived at a critical juncture: A diplomatic framework is in place to end the carnage, a two-week-old partial cease-fire is holding, and peace talks are set to resume in coming days.

“The indicators from a distance are all good,” said Bassam Barabandi, a Washington-based former Syrian diplomat who now serves as a political adviser to the Syrian opposition. But it’s an extremely fragile moment, and the way is still long, he added.

Few think fighting will end altogether, and the efforts could collapse again at any point. Bitter divisions over the future of President Bashar Assad threaten to scuttle any serious negotiations for a political transition in the immediate future. Talk is on the rise that a partition is the best case scenario.

Still, there are numerous indications that the war has reached a point when guns may start giving way to politics.

“We are finishing phase one and moving on to phase two,” Barabandi said.

At the heart of the current diplomacy: an internationally shared desire to put an end to a war that has unleashed Islamic extremists across the globe, destabilized neighboring countries and inundated Europe with refugees.

“International opinion is drifting away from the opposition and the idea of political change in Syria,” said Aron Lund, nonresident associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and editor of Syria in Crisis. “Much of the world just wants stability, an end to terror sanctuaries, a stemming of refugee flows. They don’t want to see Syria on the front page of their morning newspapers anymore.”

Five years have passed since the uprising began, first with a small protest in downtown Damascus on March 14, 2011, followed a few days later by larger protests in the southern city of Daraa in response to the arrest and torture of high school students who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a school wall.

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