Fearing bombardent amidst ambiguous ceasefire, residents in west Aleppo town tell Nusra to ‘get out’

AMMAN: Residents of western Aleppo’s Atareb have “no confidence” in the ongoing ceasefire, a local citizen journalist told Syria Direct on Monday, one day after dozens of demonstrators in the opposition-held town called for Jabhat a-Nusra fighters to “get out” in order to avoid attracting regime and Russian bombardment.

While residents want Jabhat a-Nusra out, Atareb residents are uncertain that the group’s exit would be enough to save them from future bombardment.

“There is no confidence, not in the regime nor in the Russians, especially because the ceasefire has been broken since its first day,” Atareb citizen journalist Abdelrahman Abdelrahman told Syria Direct.

Only in its second day, the agreement is already on shaky ground. Opposition factions allege dozens of violations by regime forces using ground bombardment and barrel bombs in multiple provinces. Russian monitors said they recorded nine violations by rebel groups in the first 24 hours.

“Residents know that Nusra’s staying or leaving will not affect the ceasefire,” Abdelrahman told Syria Direct on Monday.


Atareb residents chant anti-Nusra slogans on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Atareb Free.

“There are areas where there is no Nusra presence whatsoever that were bombed after the ceasefire had gone into effect.”

Up to 250 demonstrators in Atareb, 30km west of Aleppo city, gathered on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of violent battles between Jabhat a-Nusra and the Harakat Hazm rebel alliance that killed more than 100 fighters on both sides. Harakat Hazm disbanded itself in the aftermath.

“We the people are not willing to bear the consequences of [Nusra’s] project” in Syria, a demonstrator said, addressing a crowd of men, children and what appears to be several FSA fighters gathered in front of a minibus outfitted with loudspeakers.

A “cessation of hostilities” hammered out between Moscow and Washington earlier this month went into effect across Syria on Saturday, with an estimated 100 warring parties participating.

The ceasefire does not include military operations against the Islamic State and Jabhat a-Nusra, sparking concern among civilians and rebels that the presence of Nusra fighters, actual or imagined, could be used as an excuse to continue bombarding the opposition.

“Although Nusra has a single headquarters on the outskirts of the city, the people are trying to get rid of any pretext the regime could use to bomb them.” A mixture of FSA and Islamist rebel factions control Atareb, with a current population of 55,000.

The fear of being targeted for harboring Nusra adds a new dimension to existing bad blood between Atareb residents and the Al-Qaeda affiliate, which maintains a contingent of approximately 35 fighters in the west Aleppo town, a resident told Syria Direct last September.

A confrontation last fall between Nusra and Atareb residents over the arrest of a local man by the former saw Nusra members forced to abandon their checkpoints as residents protested and burned tires, reported Syria Direct.

That enmity re-emerged on Sunday. Demonstrators chanted: “Atareb is free, Nusra get out!” in video posted online the same day.

“We cannot bear the injustice of Bashar, so how could we bear that of Al-Qaeda,” an FSA fighter who lost a relative in fighting between Harakat Hazm and Nusra last year asked demonstrators Sunday. He said warring parties should “help the people, not increase their pain and suffering.”

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani is from Latakia province. She studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor in Syria. She has worked at Syria Direct since 2015 and was named the 2018 Middle East and North Africa Laureate for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers' (WAN-IFRA) Women in News Editorial Leadership Award.

Mohammed Mofeed

Mohammed Mofeed is from Aleppo province. He moved to Jordan to finish his college degree in telecommunication engineering in 2013. Prior to joining Syria Direct, he worked in marketing and became interested in journalism after reading many politicized articles on the Syrian uprising.

Mateo Nelson

Mateo Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. Mateo holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.