Worn down by encirclement, bombings, Waer residents demand a ‘stop to bloodshed’ as opposition negotiators split on truce proposal

AMMAN: Waer’s opposition authorities provisionally agreed on Wednesday to a regime truce proposal calling for the eventual evacuation of all rebel fighters from Waer after district residents rejected some negotiators’ pleas to keep fighting and demanded they act to “stop the bloodshed.”

On Monday, regime authorities presented Waer’s 80,000 residents with the terms of a proposed truce [Syria Direct obtained a copy; the full translated text is here].

The agreement calls for an extended ceasefire, the entrance of food and medicine into the district, the departure of armed rebels, the release of regime detainees and the eventual return of government police and state institutions to the rebel-held district, the last in Homs city.   

Waer’s negotiating team accepted the regime’s terms on Wednesday on two conditions: the first, that UN-approved monitors oversee the agreement’s implementation and, secondly, that the regime announce the exact number of detainees to be released—a key sticking point in previous failed negotiations.

Regime representatives said on Wednesday they would respond to the opposition negotiators’ amended proposal within 48 hours.

Two rebel negotiators who spoke with Syria Direct said the debate around whether to accept the regime truce proposal, even conditionally, split the committee down the middle. 

“At the end of the day, we are against the renewed shelling and killing of Waer residents and we are against the total evacuation of the district. To us, both options mean death,” negotiator Abu Zuheir told Syria Direct Wednesday. Abu Zuheir declined to divulge how he voted on the truce proposal.

A second negotiator expressed a lack of confidence that the regime will accept and follow through with the truce terms.

“Every time [we enter into an agreement], the regime goes back on its promises and returns to bombing the district in order to extract more concessions,” the second negotiator, who requested anonymity, told Syria Direct.

The last round of truce negotiations broke down this past March after the opposition accused the regime of reneging on its promise to release thousands of detainees.

The negotiators handed over “a list of 7,360 names of detainees...the regime responded that it could uncover the fate of, and free only 137,” Waleed al-Faris, an opposition negotiator responsible for detainees, told Syria Direct at the time.

In the six months since truce negotiations broke down, the regime and allied militias have steadily tightened the encirclement of Waer. Residents are barred from leaving the district and food, medicine and fuel rarely enter.

Since March, regime snipers, mortar shells, and, most recently, airstrikes have killed 46 people, injured 250 and destroyed more than 300 homes, according to statistics gathered by Syria Direct’s partner news site the Syrian Voice.

 In numbers: 180 days of Waer encirclement. Courtesy of the Syrian Voice.

The renewed Waer truce talks began after two days of intense regime shelling of the district that killed nine people and reportedly included the use of internationally banned incendiary weapons.

On Tuesday night, less than 24 hours after news broke of the truce talks, hundreds of Waer residents gathered before the negotiating team’s offices, calling for negotiators to end the bombardments.

“There was a gathering of residents in front of the negotiators’ offices, Walid al-Homsi a Waer resident and citizen journalist who attended the overnight sit-in told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

The demonstrators called on negotiators “to stop the bloodshed.”

“We don’t want to die and we can’t handle the bombing anymore,” Abu Baraa, a Waer resident present at the protests, told Syria Direct Wednesday.

“We want the negotiators to take this factor into account—even if that means leaving Waer.”

Osama Abu Zeid

Osama Abu Zeid is a native of Homs, where he served as a media activist and founding member of the Homs Revolutionary Council after the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

Orion Wilcox

Orion Wilcox was a 2014-2015 CASA fellow in Amman, Jordan where he interned with the UNRWA Jordan Field Office. He received his BA in Economics and Arabic language from the University of Mississippi. Following the CASA program, Orion worked as a freelance translator and interpreter in Amman.