AMMAN: On day 53, the fragile “cessation of hostilities” agreement in Syria appears to be on the verge of total collapse, with rebel spokesmen and commanders telling Syria Direct on Thursday that for them, there wasn’t much of a truce from the beginning.
Rebel leaders spoke to Syria Direct one day after Syrian opposition negotiators suspended their participation in peace talks, and 10 brigades launched a new battle against regime forces in northern Latakia province.
The opposition has decided “to postpone participations in the Geneva negotiations,” High Negotiating Committee head Riyad Hijab told a press conference in the Swiss city on Tuesday, adding that “since the political process began, suffering has increased.” The HNC is the Saudi-backed rebel negotiating committee representing Syria’s opposition factions.
“The regime is still blockading civilians and has not cared about the truce or the talks,” Hijab said. “It continues to bomb civilians.”
At about the same time as Hijab’s statements, reported regime airstrikes hit public markets in the towns of Kafr Nubl and Maarat a-Numan in rebel-held Idlib province, with dozens of deaths and injuries reported by local activists and news agencies.
The move on Tuesday to suspend participation in the talks came amidst rebel criticism of “half-measures” in the negotiations, according to a statement by the Free Syrian Army on Monday, referring to reported suggestions to allow Assad to retain a presence in a transitional government.
Rescue workers and civilians at the site of a reported regime airstrike on a Maarat a-Numan market on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Civil Defense Idlib.
This past Sunday, chief rebel negotiator Mohammed Alloush tweeted a call for Syrian rebels to “ignite the fronts” and “strike” regime forces. Later the same day, in a more carefully worded statement, Alloush, who is also Jaish al-Islam’s political leader, tweeted that he would support any course of action reached through “consensus between the factions.”
“We can’t abide by a dead truce,” Cpt. Abdelsalam Abdelrizaq, spokesman for Aleppo rebel faction Noureddin a-Zinki told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “We fought the regime and its militias more during the truce than before,” he added. “I don’t know where the ceasefire is that we’re going to break.”
Over the past seven weeks, the “cessation of hostilities” brokered by the United States and Russia has brought relief for civilians but done little to quiet the fighting fronts, as regime forces and rebel groups continued to battle in multiple provinces across Syria. Fighting is particularly fierce in the north, with major offensives underway in Aleppo and Latakia.
“We know that this regime has not and will not abide by the truce,” an Aleppo-based commander with the FSA Division 16 told Syria Direct on Tuesday, requesting anonymity. “We have abided by it to expose the regime in front of the international community.”
"We have many alternatives to put an end to this criminal regime,” HNC head Hijab wrote in a hawkish tweet on Tuesday.
On Monday, 10 FSA and Islamist factions formed a shared operations room and launched a new battle in northern Latakia province in response to what the groups called “the many violations and breaches by regime forces.” Participating groups include Ahrar a-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, the FSA’s Northern Division and the First Coastal Division.
The Latakia battle, dubbed “A Response to Injustices,” runs contrary to the term of the cessation of hostilities stipulating that the warring factions “refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire.”
Jabhat Thuwar Syria, an FSA collective within the Southern Front operating in Daraa and Quneitra provinces, called for “a return to armed struggle until the fall of the Damascus tyrant and his associates,” in a statement published online Monday. The faction also called on the HNC to “stop all negotiations and renege on the fragile truce which the regime has already aborted.”
“The only good thing to come out of the negotiations so far is the ceasefire, which has been broken since the beginning,” a media spokesman for a rebel faction in Daraa told Syria Direct on Thursday, requesting anonymity. “At the negotiations table, the opposition has found itself alone.”
“There hasn’t been a truce in the meaning of the word,” said Aleppo rebel spokesman Abdelraziq.