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Rebels back off Shiite villages in exchange for Zabadani ceasefire

Temporary ceasefires began in three Syrian towns on Wednesday as […]

12 August 2015

Temporary ceasefires began in three Syrian towns on Wednesday as part of a deal brokered between Ahrar a-Sham rebels representing the Victory Army and an Iranian delegation negotiating on behalf of the regime as Assad supporters called for more decisive government action against rebellious areas nationwide.

The terms of the 48-hour ceasefires stipulate that the Syrian regime and its allies halt the assault they launched last month on Zabadani, northwest of Damascus and considered the entryway into the Qalamoun mountains along the Lebanese border, pro-opposition Orient News reported on Wednesday.

At the same time, Ahrar a-Sham rebels would pause their offensive on the regime-held Shiite villages of al-Fuaa and neighboring Kafariya in Idlib province, the site reported.

Ahrar a-Sham began attacking al-Fuaa in Idlib earlier this week after negotiations in Istanbul for a ceasefire in Zabadani broke down as a result of what rebel participants in the talks called Iranian intransigence.

While neither the Syrian regime nor Victory Army rebels issued official announcements confirming the ceasefires on Wednesday, aligned media sources and individual actors on both sides reported on a deal after days fierce fighting in both Zabadani and around al-Fuaa.

A rebel spokesman said the regime agreed to the ceasefire because of “heavy losses” in al-Fuaa.

 Shiite demonstrators in Sayeda Zainab. Photo courtesy of All4Syria

The assault on the Shiite village “cost Iran and Hezbollah heavy losses, which caused them to enter into a temporary truce to stop the attacks on Zabadani in exchange for al-Fuaa,” Ahrar spokesman Abu al-Yazid Taftanaz posted to his Twitter account on Tuesday shortly before the ceasefires went into effect.

Pro-regime Lebanese channel al-Mayadeen said that a 48-hour ceasefire had been negotiated, although a final settlement has not been agreed upon.

Rebels have encircled al-Fuaa and the nearby Shiite village of Kafariya since this past March, when the Victory Army rebel coalition captured Idlib’s provincial capital city from regime forces.

In the months since, the Shiite villages have proven valuable pressure points for the Idlib rebels, who have leveraged the threat of attacks in order to attempt to force the regime’s hand in other areas, such as Zabadani.

Abdallah Muhammad al-Muhaysini, a popular Saudi cleric fighting with the Ahrar a-Sham rebels around al-Fuaa, took to Twitter on Wednesday to praise the Zabadani ceasefire and emphasize the role the two villages played in persuading the regime.

“So it is, the gangs don’t move except for by the language of force, so the Victory Army addressed them in their language and they understood!”

Hours after the ceasefires began, conflicting information emerged about whether or not they would hold, with al-Mayadeen reporting that three people had been killed in al-Fuaa as a result of rebel bombardments of the village and neighboring Kafariya.

Rebels denied any such breach of the agreement.

“The truce has not been broken, and I have not heard the sound of bombing from where I am” near the villages, Ahrar a-Sham spokesman al-Taftanaz told Syria Direct Wednesday.

Popular pressure

Before Wednesday’ ceasefires, regime supporters in Sayeda Zainab, a regime-held Shiite town 10 kilometers south of Damascus, took to the streets on Tuesday to criticize what they called insufficient regime inaction in al-Fuaa and Kafariya, the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi reported.

The demonstrators called for swift army mobilization to protect the villages and for more barrel bombs and missiles to be targeted at nearby rebel-held Sunni cities, including Moadimiyet a-Sham and Douma in Outer Damascus as well as the Al-Waer neighborhood in Homs city, al-Quds al-Arabi said, citing local media activist Nidal al-Jolani.

Tuesday’s protests were only the latest in a series of demonstrations by increasingly vocal regime supporters calling for more aggressive responses to rebels.

On the same day, demonstrations in Tartus city called on the government to break the Islamic State’s siege of the Kweiris airport, where hundreds of regime soldiers remain trapped in the east Aleppo countryside. 

Protests in Latakia city this past Saturday called for the arrest and execution of Suleimain al-Assad, a relative of president Bashar al-Assad, after he ran over an army officer in a road rage altercation.


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