Syrian regime and opposition representatives have secretly met four times since July to discuss the possibility of a ceasefire in the rebel-held East Ghouta suburbs just outside Damascus, an opposition official who attended the meetings tells Syria Direct.
East Ghouta, with its district of Jobar to the west just abutting Abbasid Square in Damascus, is one of the last symbols of steadfastness for Syria’s opposition. And yet, encircled and cut off from the world since June 2012, East Ghouta is considering ceasefire, as neighboring towns have already done.
Abu Adil, one of Ghouta’s opposition negotiators, wants the point to be clear that the talks with the regime are preliminary, and that conditions must be met for a ceasefire.
“We want an official written and signed letter that clearly lists the regime’s stipulations and demands,” Abu Adil tells Noura Hourani from the city of Douma, 14km northeast of Damascus and considered the capital of east Ghouta.
Opposition negotiators say they want the regime to release their own prisoners, end the four-year encirclement and stop bombing East Ghouta, according to an October 17 statement by the Douma Local Council.
Page 1 of the Douma Local Council’s summary of the preliminary ceasefire negotiations, which was distributed to residents on October 17. Photo courtesy of Abu Adil.
“We—as representatives of residents—refuse to sit with representatives of the criminal regime or with occupying Russian forces before the criminal regime demonstrates its good intentions by releasing detainees, ending the siege, and stopping the bombing of civilians,” read the statement.
Posturing aside, the opposition is in fact sitting down with regime representatives, though not in an official way, as Abu Adil describes here.
Q: What did you discuss during Wednesday’s meeting?
We want an official written and signed letter that clearly lists the regime’s stipulations and demands. We want the negotiation to apply for all of East Ghouta, not just Douma. We ended on this point.
Q: Do you think that the regime sincerely wants to reach a ceasefire?
I don’t think that the regime is serious about a ceasefire, or anything. From the very first meeting, the regime committee said that they came to discuss a ceasefire. But East Ghouta continues to be violently bombed.
New regime representatives attend each negotiation. If the regime were serious, then one team would meet with us and follow up on discussions from previous meetings.
We’re familiar with the regime’s lies and hypocrisy that aim to create discord.
Q: How many times did the regime delegation visit Douma? Did they come with the UN convoy?
The regime delegation has visited Douma four times, most recently last Wednesday, October 19.
The regime committee members left Douma hours before the UN convoy entered the city.
Wednesday’s delegation consisted of five people, originally from Douma, who reside in Damascus and are sponsored by the regime. They told us that they were verbal negotiators, not official regime negotiators. Since they did not bring a ‘tafweed’, it’s not possible to consider them an official regime delegation. They were just sent to open a dialogue. They don’t have authority, serious offers or any guarantees. They only have claims and aspirations.
: A “tafweed” is a signed and stamped letter from the regime that lists the name of its negotiators and ceasefire demands].
Q: Last Wednesday, October 19, a regime negotiating committee visited Douma, accompanied by four detainees. This visit also coincided with the first UN aid delivery to the city in four months. Are these two events related?
No. The UN aid delivery was completely independent from the negotiations meeting. When the UN convoy arrived, we met with them at the local council for six hours.
What we think happened was this: The regime took advantage of the UN aid delivery by simultaneously sending a delegation, accompanied by four detainees, to the city in the hopes of making residents believe that the regime and opposition are secretly coming to some sort of agreement.
Q: Talk more about the four detainees who accompanied the negotiation committee to Douma. Were they opposition residents from Douma?
No, they were not opposition residents from Douma. The detainees that came with the regime committee were originally from Douma, but they had no ties to the revolution whatsoever. They had been arrested in central Damascus and had already completed their sentence.
: The four detainees who entered Douma with the regime delegation were released. Syria Direct could not verify whether they stayed inside of Douma or went to another city.]
During the third meeting between regime representatives and Douma opposition negotiators [on October 13], the regime committee asked that we demonstrate our good intentions by releasing important officers and personnel who are being held in East Ghouta. The regime committee requested regime prisoners without discussing the East Ghouta detainees that the regime is holding.
Last Wednesday, when regime representatives visited the city, they brought four detainees with them, claiming that the regime had released four opposition detainees to reveal its good intentions [for reconciliation]. In fact, the regime did this only to create discord and confusion between residents and the opposition.