Fragile ceasefire talks for the last rebel-controlled district of Homs are disrupted by reported regime shelling and sniper activity as UN officials meet with rebels on Thursday.
January 15, 2015
By Osama Abu Zeid and Dan Wilkofsky
AMMAN: Rebel sources in Homs city on Thursday denied a report in the pro-Assad daily Al-Watan that rebels and the regime agreed to a truce in the northwest neighborhood of Al-Waer that would end rebel control of the holdout district.
“No settlement has been concluded, rather the negotiations are entering a trust-building phase between the two sides,” a source close to the rebel negotiating committee who asked to remain anonymous told Syria Direct Thursday.
“Meetings were limited to the two sides getting to know each other, and breaking the caution between the negotiating parties,” he added.
Waleed Fares, the alias of another source close to Al-Waer’s negotiating council, confirmed that the negotiations are ongoing.
“The negotiations [over al-Waer] have not ended yet, they’re still in the primary stages,” he told Syria Direct Wednesday.
Al-Watan’s assertion that a 10-day ceasefire beginning Thursday had been agreed upon is true, the first source close to the negotiating committee said, as well as the entrance of humanitarian aid into the neighborhood. He denied the paper’s claim that an agreement had been reached surrounding a return to civilian life for 70 percent of rebel fighters in the neighborhood, with the remainder leaving for the northern Homs countryside.
But even the ceasefire agreement appeared to be in jeopardy Thursday hours after Red Crescent vehicles bearing food aid—with UN personnel in attendance—since last November left the neighborhood.
UN vehicles deliver aid into Al-Waer on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Homs Media Center.
The regime reportedly launched artillery shells on Shariah al-Maitam, where UN officials met with rebel representatives, and on the first and second island neighborhoods, a citizen journalist who goes by the name of Mohammed al-Homsi and works with the pro-opposition Homs Media Center told Syria Direct Thursday.
The “new” district of Al-Waer consists of nine islands, or sub-districts, all of which with the exception of number nine are under rebel control.
“Civilians wounded during artillery bombing that targeted Al-Waer in a breach of the agreement,” reported the Homs Media Center late Thursday afternoon.
“Two injuries from a sniper [shooting from] the Homs hospital…the sniper was targeting the neighborhood’s streets as the UN delegation was moving about,” Mohannad al-Khaldiah, a citizen journalist and photographer in Al-Waer, wrote on Facebook late Thursday afternoon.
Waleed Fares sees the regime’s reported strategy of negotiate-then-bomb as a calculated move to reach a more favorable agreement.
“Negotiations never actually stopped,” he said. “The regime would meet with us and we would agree on specific terms, then suddenly the [regime] bombings would begin on Al-Waer and the regime would open negotiations again, waiting for us to offer more concessions or give up easily.”
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