Victory Army rebels and regime forces entered into a third bilateral ceasefire in Zabadani and the Shiite-majority Idlib towns of al-Fuaa and Kafariya on Sunday, after opposition fighters took control of multiple points of defense near al-Fuaa over the weekend.
Finding a solution for rebel fighters trapped in Zabadani is central to Victory Army efforts in al-Fuaa and Kafariya, Abu al-Yazid Taftanaz, an Ahrar a-Sham spokesman in the Idlib countryside, tells Ammar Hamou.
Q: Regime media revealed the existence of a truce, while opposition pages have not mentioned it. What is your comment on that?
Yes, there is a truce beginning precisely at noon that will continue for 48 hours, and which may be extended pending an agreement on the [negotiating] points.
Q: The Victory Army announced that it took control of al-Fuaa’s defensive lines on Saturday, what are the points that were taken?
Over the past two days, the first line of defense south of al-Fuaa was taken, and rebels came within several meters of the southern buildings of al-Fuaa.
On Saturday, we took control of the strategic al-Khorbah Hill, the most important hill overlooking al-Fuaa and Kafariya and the road connecting the two [towns].
At dawn on Sunday, [opposition fighters] took control of eight military points east of al-Fuaa, including the al-Awameed area, the blue storehouse checkpoint, the al-Omar checkpoint, the poultry farms area and a number of other farms east of al-Fuaa.
The Victory Army is tightening the noose on al-Fuaa from three directions: north, east, and south.
Q: Is the bilateral ceasefire contingent on [rebels’] withdrawal from these points?
On the contrary, it was stipulated that the regime stop its operations fortifying the al-Fuaa fronts. It is the opposite of the past [truces] when both sides were allowed [to fortify and resupply].
The other point was that the [airdropped] parcels of ammunition and weapons from regime helicopters stop. It is completely forbidden for the helicopters to hover [over the area].
Q: Does Ahrar a-Sham have one eye on al-Fuaa and the other on Zabadani? Is Zabadani being taken into account in the al-Fuaa battle?
Certainly. Just as Kafariya and al-Fuaa are encircled by the Victory Army in Idlib, so too our brothers are encircled by the regime in Zabadani.
As long as our brothers are encircled in Zabadani and Madaya, we will seek to break the blockade.
For us, the negotiations are in order to reach an agreement with terms helping [rebels] in Zabadani to break the blockade.
Q: After Abu Yahya al-Hamawi assumed leadership of Ahrar a-Sham, he stressed that there would be no negotiations without consulting the other active factions. Did Ahrar a-Sham consult with the rest of the factions on this truce?
I would like to emphasize that this truce is not Ahrar a-Sham’s, but rather the Victory Army’s, with all the participating factions contained within the operations room.
[Editor’s note: see Syria Direct’s interview about Ahrar a-Sham’s change of leadership here