February 4, 2016

Talks to end the civil war in Syria were suspended by the U.N. on Feb. 3, just two days after delegates from the government and the opposition coalition gathered in Geneva. Although U.N. special envoy Steffan de Mistura said the halt was temporary, major hurdles stand in the way of diplomacy:

FRACTURED OPPOSITION

Syrian rebels and opposition groups formed a 34-seat body called the High Negotiations Committee in December, but lingering tensions between Islamist rebels and civilian opposition groups have left it unable to present a united front. And Kurdish armed groups that control a significant portion of the country have reportedly not been invited to participate in negotiations.

THE ASSAD QUESTION

There is still no agreement among the warring parties about the fate of President Bashar Assad and his regime. The U.S. has backed away from calls for regime change, but opposition groups are demanding Assad’s departure.

THE REGIME’S STRENGTH

The Syrian President is in a stronger position now than he was six months ago, owing to air support from Russia and the entry of Iranian troops into the conflict, as well as Shi’ite fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan. The injection of foreign troops has made up for a shortage of local recruits to Assad’s military, and since Russian jets began bombing in September, the regime has stabilized its grip on territory it still controls. All of this will make Assad less likely to compromise.

RENEWED VIOLENCE

Air strikes by Russia and the Syrian regime reached a crescendo in early February in a new offensive launched on the key city of Aleppo, with human rights groups estimating some 270 strikes in three days. The rebels say negotiations are pointless while attacks and hunger sieges on rebel-held and civilian areas continue. Even if talks resume later in February as planned, a triple bombing by ISIS near Damascus that killed at least 45 people on Jan. 31 serves as a reminder that jihadi groups are ready to undermine any deal.

–JARED MALSIN/CAIRO

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the February 15, 2016 issue of TIME.

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