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Rebel negotiator: Waer truce ‘about to go up in flames’

AMMAN: A month-old truce between regime forces and the opposition […]

4 January 2016

AMMAN: A month-old truce between regime forces and the opposition in a holdout district of Homs city is “about to go up in flames,” an opposition negotiator told Syria Direct on Monday amidst rebel accusations of regime forces and their allies hindering humanitarian aid, killing rebel fighters and mistreating civilians.

“I believe that the truce is about to go up in flames,” a member of the al-Waer negotiating committee responsible for overseeing the opposition’s implementation of December’s truce told Syria Direct on Monday, requesting anonymity. Syria Direct has spoken with this same source on multiple occasions while covering the Waer truce process.

A UN-backed truce negotiated between rebel negotiators from the Waer neighborhood and the Syrian regime early in December promised to bring relief to the west Homs city district after being completely encircled by regime forces for more than two years.

Among the terms of the three-stage Waer truce: A bilateral ceasefire, the departure from Waer of some rebel fighters and their families, the reopening of a checkpoint connecting the rebel district to regime-held Homs city and the entry of humanitarian aid. Other terms stipulated that rebels hand over heavy weapons and that the regime release 5,000 detainees held in its prisons.

The rebel negotiator Syria Direct spoke to on Monday says that the regime’s failure to adhere to the terms of the truce leaves the opposition with little to lose if it falls apart.

“The regime broke the truce more than 20 times in the last week,” the negotiator told Syria Direct, citing restriction of movement and “mistreatment” of civilians leaving Waer, in addition to the construction of earthen berms and bunkers by regime forces around the district and planes “hovering at low altitudes.” State security forces also reportedly arrested and interrogated a rebel negotiator at length shortly after the truce went into effect, he said.

 One Waer rebel faction announces Saturday that its fighters would not abide by the ceasefire. Photo courtesy of Waer24.

Only a portion of the agreed-upon humanitarian aid has entered Waer since the truce began, the same source added. “No more than 7,200 parcels” from the UN and other organizations have arrived, covering 60 percent of an estimated 12,000 families inside, he says.

The Waer negotiating committee closed its side of the Duwwar al-Mohandiseen checkpoint connecting the district to the rest of Homs city on Monday morning “pending a solution to repeated violations by regime forces,” Abu Muhammad al-Homsi, a member of the pro-opposition Homs Media Center reported Monday.

Before its closure on the rebel side, the checkpoint, operated by both rebel and regime forces, was the only way in or out of Waer. The Waer district itself is still controlled by rebels, though 300 of them who rejected the truce left for rebel-controlled areas in the north last month.

Syria Direct could not independently confirm alleged regime violations, and Syrian state media has not commented. Multiple pro-opposition media sources have reported alleged violations in recent days. 

In Waer’s southwestern corner, the ceasefire has already fallen apart after Shiite militias from a bordering pro-regime village reportedly fired on and killed two rebel fighters inside Waer last week.

In response, local rebel brigade Kataib al-Huda al-Islamiya called the killings of its members “an unforgivable breach of the truce” in an announcement posted online Saturday. Kataib snipers in the neighborhood would consider “every enemy” spotted on the southwestern edge of Waer a “legitimate target,” read the announcement.

In a meeting between rebel and regime forces this past Sunday about recent infractions, “the changed face of the regime surprised” rebel negotiators, Syria Direct’s source said Monday. “In contrast to the beginning of negotiations and the truce, it was as though it blessed those violations.”

It is not immediately clear whether the Syrian regime has in fact changed its view of the Waer truce, or what it would have to gain by doing so.

However, there has been criticism of the Waer truce by regime supporters in Homs since it began, particularly from families who believe their kidnapped relatives are still being held by rebels in Waer.

Most recently, in the nearby Alawite-majority al-Zahraa neighborhood of Homs city, twin car bombings claimed by the Islamic State that killed more than 20 civilians one week ago sparked protests by regime supporters who called for the fall of Talal al-Barazi, the provincial governor, and asked that the Waer truce be cancelled.

Continuing uncertainty has led some in Waer to fear for the future, particularly following the departure of hundreds of rebel fighters this past December.

“This is what we feared, and is why we called for the rebels to stay and protect us,” Samer al-Salibi, a Waer resident told Syria Direct on Monday.

“The regime has no security and doesn’t control the sectarian Shiite militias which support it.”

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