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Martin Armstrong

Syrian rebels 'signed different ceasefire agreement' to regime copy

Numerous rebel-held areas around Damascus remain besieged by pro-Assad forces [AFP]

Date of publication: 31 December, 2016

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More than ten Syrian rebel groups claim the ceasefire agreement being pursued by the regime is different to what they signed up for, pointing to regime violations in Wadi Barada.

Syrian opposition groups have claimed that the ceasefire agreement presented by Moscow is different to the "version" now being pursued by the Syrian regime.

They also warned of a potential "massacre" if pro-regime forces did not halt their advances on a besieged rebel-held valley close to Damascus, despite a ceasefire being in place.

More than ten Syrian rebel groups who signed the statement claim that the version of the ceasefire agreement promoted by Damascus and Moscow "confirm an interpretation of the agreement" different to the one initially agreed on.

They also said that several key and "fundamental points" the opposition deemed "non-negotiable" had also been removed.

Damascus' military campaign against Wadi Barada also constitutes a clear breach of the ceasefire terms, the rebel groups stated.  

Water war

The Ain al-Fijah spring in Wadi Barada provides 70 percent of Damascus' mains water supply. Pipes to the capital have been cut since 22 December amid mutual accusations between pro-regime and rebel groups over who is responsible.

In the last ten days, a renewed assault by pro-regime forces - including Hizballah - has resulted in a rising civilian death toll in the area, according to monitors.

Rebel groups who signed the statement include the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam, one of the strongest remaining rebel factions in Syria. Mostly active in the Ghouta, Jaish al-Islam has faced accusations of ruling with an iron-fist and criticism for its allegedly severe punishment of dissent.

Another Islamist faction Suqour al-Sham, originally formed in north-west Idlib in 2011, and the Free Idlib Army, a coalition of three former FSA factions that formed in September, were also signatories.

In the statement they warned the international community that "ongoing violations" of the ceasefire in Wadi Barada would lead to its "immediate end" and potentially lead to the massacre of civilians.

Around 45,000 are thought to live in Wadi Barada, which is rebel-held strip of territory surrounded by pro-regime forces.

Earlier this week President Anas Abdah of the opposition Syrian National Coalition called on the international community to ensure the safety of civilians in Wadi Barada, requested the establishment of a Red Cross office in the valley region.

Abdah said the Syrian regime was trying to force civilians from their homes "through the barbaric bombing and destruction of vital civilian facilities, and imposing a tight siege".

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Through a combination of settlement deals and military offensives, the Syrian regime supported by Russian air raids have taken control of previously rebel-held enclaves and territories around the Syrian capital in recent months. 

Other agreements - described as "national reconciliation" by the Syrian regime, and "ethnic cleansing" by the opposition -have taken place elsewhere in Syria, including the al-Waer neighbourhood of Homs.

Thousands of residents were also evacuated from the former rebel-held districts of East Aleppo in recent weeks and transferred to Idlib province.

Buoyed by recent victory in Aleppo, and keen to consolidate power around the capital, analysts have predicted that rebel-held Damascus suburbs such as East Ghoutta, Douma and Wadi Barada, which lies on territory linking the Syrian capital with Hezbollah’s strongholds in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, could fall next. 

A Russian-Turkey brokered truce for Syria came into place at 22:00 local time on Thursday, and despite some violations on Friday, appeared to be holding

The Islamic State group and the formerly al-Qaeda affiliated Fatah al-Sham are not included in the ceasefire agreement.

Russian airstrikes notably taking place in support of Turkey-backed rebels battling IS in the Aleppo town of al-Bab; such collaboration paralleled by recent diplomacy between the two previously wary states, marking a new dynamic in Syria’s nearly six year long conflict. 

Negotiations between the Syrian regime and opposition representatives towards a peace settlement in Syria are scheduled to begin in mid-January in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, a close Russian ally.

Two previous ceasefires for Syria this year have failed to hold.


Groups party to the statement: Ahal al-Sham Front, Free Idlib Army, al-Jabhat al-Shamiye, Suqour al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, Liwa Shuhada al-Islam, Fayliq al-Rahman, Jaish al-Nasr, Jaialsh al-Aza, al-Furqa al-Oula al-Sahliye, and the Fastaqeem Union. 

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