Trucks carrying large quantities of humanitarian aid entered the last rebel-held district in Homs city Saturday, the first step in a series of good faith gestures intended to pave the way for a truce agreement in coming weeks, an opposition negotiator from the neighborhood told Syria Direct Sunday.
“A truce agreement still has not been signed—we've entered a good faith gesture phase that could last up to 22 days....the beginning of this phase includes the entrance of humanitarian aid and a ceasefire,” said the negotiator, who was present at last week's truce talks between Waer rebels and the regime and requested anonymity.
“If things continue to go well, the truce will be signed before the 22 days are up.”
Saturday's delivery of aid was the largest Waer has seen since the regime encircled the neighborhood more than two years ago, Mohammed a-Sabaai, journalist with the pro-opposition Homs Media Center, told Syria Direct Sunday. While aid convoys have entered Waer sporadically since the siege began in October 2013, they have proven insufficient for residents, who grow plants, such as beets, lettuce and parsley, in private gardens as a source of food.
Saturday's delivery was supervised by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the World Food Program. It included eight trucks carrying food, two carrying medicine and four carrying clothes, and was “the first time such a great quantity of aid has gotten in,” said a-Sabaai.
A negotiating committee from Waer reached an oral agreement with the regime last Tuesday, not yet codified in writing, to begin a truce in what appears to be the first serious effort to end the siege affecting approximately 75,000 neighborhood residents.
“The regime is serious this time, not like before,” the rebel negotiator told Syria Direct Sunday, echoing comments he made last week.
The precise details of the agreement have still not been made public. The rebel negotiator told Syria Direct last week that a final truce is slated to include the release of an unknown number of detainees from regime prisons and the entrance of food and medicine into the neighborhood. In exchange, 200 to 300 rebel fighters will leave Waer in batches. The regime’s goal is for the district to eventually become “free of weapons and militants,” Governor Talal al-Barazi was quoted by Iranian news agency al-Alam as saying Wednesday.
According to the attendee, however, the opposition and regime negotiating committees came to an informal understanding that not all rebels will be required to leave Waer. Only those who refuse the truce initiative, a “small minority,” he said, will depart for the rebel-controlled Idlib and Hama countrysides. It is unclear what role, if any, the remaining rebels in Waer will play in enforcing the truce, or whether they will eventually be asked to give up their arms.
Previous attempts to reach a reconciliation were scuttled either by regime shelling of the neighborhood or by mysterious bombings carried out in nearby pro-regime Alawite neighborhoods of Homs, such as the infamous twin Akrama bombings that targeted a primary school in October 2014, killing dozens of children.
Photo courtesy of Revolution Syria.