Here, spokesmen and commanders with five Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated rebel brigades react to the “cessation of hostilities” agreement initially hammered out between Russia and the United States on February 11, whose final terms were announced on the 22nd and is slated to take effect 12am Saturday.
The agreement does not apply to military operations against the Islamic State, Jabhat a-Nusra, “or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.”
Major Ammar al-Wawi, Secretary General of the Free Syrian Army and leader of the FSA’s al-Ababil Brigade in Aleppo province:
Q: What is your opinion of the international agreement?
If the agreement includes all areas in Syria, it is good. However, if the ceasefire excludes Jabhat a-Nusra, then this means that the killing of civilians will continue since Nusra’s forces are among civilians and this will be a pretext to bomb Nusra positions. This will result in the death of more innocent civilians inside areas where the Islamic State (IS) and Nusra forces are.
[Ed.: The spokesmen and commanders who spoke with Syria Direct on Thursday referred to the cessation of hostilities as a truce (hudna) or ceasefire (waqf itlaq a-nar).]
Nusra has fighters on the ground with rebel brigades in most of Syria and is a partner in the fighting with most of the brigades that attended the Riyadh conference.
[Ed.: An array of Syrian opposition groups met in Riyadh last December in an attempt to form a unified front ahead of peace talks in Geneva that stalled in late January.]
The ceasefire must be comprehensive without exception. The negative response from the rebel brigades that have or will break the ceasefire stems from their rejection of any sort of Russian or regime airstrikes targeting civilians with the pretext they are targeting IS or Nusra.
Q: Will the FSA agree to the cessation of all hostilities?
We are not opposed to a ceasefire that protects the blood of innocent civilians on the battlefield. However, we don’t want the UN-backed agreement to legislate or justify Russian and regime warplanes continuing to kill and massacre civilians.
We are calling on all factions that cooperate with Nusra to pressure the organization to break ties with Al-Qaeda so civilians won’t get killed under the pretext of combating terrorism.
The ceasefire agreement that the signatory countries have agreed on also doesn’t give any sort of guarantee to Syrians that side with the opposition that Russian or regime airstrikes will not target them.
The fact that the Iraqi and Iranian militias were not included on the list of terrorist organizations in Syria is a real blow to humanity. Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Asaib Ahl al-Haq are terrorists and no better than IS.
Here, we call on Jabhat a-Nusra to announce its withdrawal from all villages and cities where there are also FSA brigades and allow the interim opposition government to assume administration in those areas out of consideration for the well-being of civilians. If Nusra is committed to fighting the regime, then they will leave civilian areas and head to the frontlines with the regime on the coast [Latakia] and Sahl al-Ghab in Hama.
Q: What is the likelihood such an agreement can be implemented?
If certain countries were serious about combatting terrorism, then they would recognize that we, the Free Syrian Army, are the first in the fight against terrorism [in Syria]. We are prepared to cooperate in the fight against the regime and against terrorism militarily to achieve security, freedom and democracy for the Syrian people. The realization of these ideals is why people revolted and why the Free Syrian Army picked up arms in the first place.
Spokesman for the Free Tribes Army, part of the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front that is actively fighting the Islamic State in Daraa province:
Q: What is the Free Tribes Army’s position on the agreement?
Our position is very clear. If there is a real ceasefire that aims to stop the bloodshed, then we are for it. However, if it falls short of that, then we are certainly opposed to it.
As for the position of the regime, it will not be committed to a ceasefire because its survival depends on continuing to kill us.
The stipulations of the ceasefire are not legitimate since they do not include some of the active factions fighting the regime. The presence of these factions among us means that we will be bombed under the pretext of targeting those factions.
The Free Tribes Army will not commit to the ceasefire stipulations as long as they are not in the interest of the Syrian people.
Spokesman for Alwiyat al-Furqan, one of the largest FSA factions operating within the Southern Front in the Daraa and Quneitra countryside:
Q: Will Alwiyat al-Furqan agree to the cessation of hostilities?
The success of the truce requires a solid basis built upon good intentions, and we do not believe that Russia and the regime are serious about activating this ceasefire.
The question is: Will the Russian raids stop? Will the regime stop barrel bombing civilian areas?
We will not accept a truce that excludes Jabhat a-Nusra. We will remain supportive of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) provided that it meets the aspirations of our people. If today we agreed to exclude Jabhat a-Nusra, then tomorrow we would agree to exclude Ahrar a-Sham, then Jaish al-Islam and so on for every honorable faction.
We will not allow the threat of being classified as a terrorist organization to compromise the fundamentals of the revolution for which the Syrian people rose up and for which we have sacrificed and bled.
Muhammad a-Sheikh, spokesman for the Second Coastal Division, an FSA faction in northern Latakia:
Q: Do you agree with these terms?
We agree to the ceasefire agreement as long as it stipulates an end to the fighting against all rebel factions including Jabhat a-Nusra and Ahrar a-Sham as well as all active factions in northern Latakia. We will not agree if even one faction is not included. Exclusions are merely a pretext to continue bombing the Syrian people.
We are in favor of any stipulations that stop the bloodbath and the killing of our people.
Q: What do you think about the exclusion of Jabhat a-Nusra? Do you believe the agreement will be implemented on the ground?
We will not accept any condition that is forced on us or that we are pressured into.
The regime is not seriously committed to a ceasefire. Since the beginning of the revolution they have said that they are targeting terrorists, but they haven’t been targeting anyone except the FSA, the opposition and civilians. They are trying to pressure the opposition into accepting their conditions and we have not and will not accept this.
We have faced pressures for years, such as America cutting off our weapons supply, and we are still facing a lot of pressure. But this fact has not stopped us.
We continue to fight in the darkness that has enveloped us.
Q: In addition to excluding various factions from the agreement, the Syrian army has said that it will continue to carry out military operations against Darayya. What do you think about this?
This is the best evidence that they are working towards a partition of the country. There is no doubt that this is among Russia and America’s conditions. It’s no surprise that they are excluding Darayya and other areas from the ceasefire agreement.
Q: Jabhat a-Nusra began withdrawing from some of its bases in Idlib. Do you think that this withdrawal is connected to the agreement?
We thank Nusra for its role in trying to lessen the pain inflicted on the Syrian people. This is a measure to remove the pretext to bomb [civilian areas], but the Russians haven’t differentiated between civilians and combatants since the beginning.
Abu Asad Dabiq, commander with FSA-affiliated Sultan Murad Brigades in Aleppo:
Q: Are you in favor of the agreement? Do you think it will work?
[We are] with the truce but fear that the regime will violate it, especially after the exclusion of Darayya and Jabhat a-Nusra.
The ceasefire may be in our interest, and we are prepared to abide by it in order to break the siege on [regime] encircled areas and to release the detainees from prisons.
As for Jabhat a-Nusra, they have their tactics, and naturally they are changing their military locations and headquarters in preparation for any emergency, especially because they are not included in the truce.
In the end, we remain on alert for the violation of the ceasefire by the regime under the pretext of bombing the Islamic State and Jabhat a-Nusra.