What's the point of a ceasefire in Syria?
According to a joint statement released by the groups, a number of "big breaches", such as a regime-led attack on Wadi Barada, led them to withdraw.
Before the agreement fell apart, regime airstrikes reportedly killed 25 people in a building in Idlib used by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the armed group formerly known as the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise.
This was not seen as a violation of the ceasefire, as JFS has been excluded from the ceasefire agreement. The exclusion of JFS from this and previous ceasefire agreements has made enforcing them a virtual impossibility.
In February 2016, an UN-brokered, limited ceasefire went into effect in Aleppo. Although rebel factions reported violations almost immediately, the tenuous agreement held for almost two months. In April 2016, the regime and Russia doubled down on Aleppo, claiming the city was under the control of JFS (then the Nusra Front) and thus excluded from the agreement.
|Hospitals are among the aircrafts’ top targets. They try to make these people injured by bombardments seem like they are terrorists. How can they be terrorists? It is horrible. Women and children die everyday|
This claim was patently false. I reported from Aleppo city and its northern countryside just two months earlier, and, while there was a JFS presence, it was miniscule. The vast majority of areas bombarded in Aleppo during this ceasefire were controlled by Jabhat al-Shamiya and other opposition factions - who were covered by the deal.
|Archive video: Lindsey Snell and Mustafa Sultan
show us round Aleppo in May 2016
The US State Department denied the claims of Damascus and Moscow that Aleppo was controlled by al-Qaeda.
At a press briefing on April 28, 2016, a journalist asked John Kirby, State Department spokesman, about the group's presence in Aleppo.
Kirby said the intermingling of al-Qaeda and other groups made strikes on Aleppo problematic. The journalist continued: "Given the fragility of the ceasefire, would it be the view here that those strikes on Aleppo, even if there is a Nusra element there, should stop because of the civilians and the other rebel groups in place?"
Kirby responded: "If you are not a party to this cessation -and al-Nusra is not - and there is a legitimate opportunity to hit al-Nusra, even if it's in Aleppo, that wouldn't be in opposition to what everybody has signed up to."
Kirby later noted that the regime and Russia blatantly violated the ceasefire in other ways, deliberately targeting opposition groups and civilians. But the message was clear - al-Qaeda's presence, however minor, can be justification for the regime and Russia to bomb an area - even during a ceasefire.
|But the message was clear – al-Qaeda's presence, however minor, can be justification for the regime and Russia to bomb an area – even during a ceasefire|
It was the first time I’d been to the area since early 2015. JFS had been just a presence in the Western countryside of Aleppo then, but now their increased presence was obvious. Even in neighbourhoods controlled by other allied factions of the opposition, JFS had checkpoints.
The village of Kafr Halab is nestled among farmland in the Western countryside of Aleppo. It is officially controlled by factions of the opposition, including Thuwar al-Sham, a group that planned to participate in the most recent ceasefire agreement. The vast majority of Kafr Halab's inhabitants are civilians. But, although they don't control the area, JFS has a checkpoint at the edge of the village.
So what would stop the Assad regime and Russia from bombarding Kafr Halab, even during a ceasefire, and claiming they aimed to attack JFS? Absolutely nothing. This is the situation in virtually all parts of the Western countryside of Aleppo and Idlib.
|So what would stop the Assad regime and Russia from bombarding Kafr Halab, even during a ceasefire, and claiming they aimed to attack JFS? Absolutely nothing|
Worse still is the proclivity of the regime and Russia to target civilian infrastructure over military positions. In July, I spoke to Doctor Abdulrahman Obaid at a civilian hospital in Atareb, another rural village west of Aleppo. Atareb, too, is a predominantly civilian area with a minor JFS presence.
Obaid says 99 percent of the patients he treats are civilians, but that "hospitals are among the aircrafts' top targets".
"They try to make these people injured by bombardments seem like they are terrorists. How can they be terrorists? It is horrible. Women and children die everyday."
The hospital in Atareb has been bombed several times, most recently in November.
The fall of eastern Aleppo forced thousands of civilians into the western countryside of Aleppo and Idlib, into villages like Kafr Halab and Atareb. While these primarily civilian areas have a minor JFS presence, they should not be considered JFS territory.
If a ceasefire won't protect these areas from regime and Russian bombardment - even on paper - then what's the point?
Lindsey Snell is a journalist covering conflict and crises across the Middle East and North Africa. Follow her on Twitter: @LindseySnell