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Syrians tense as Russia, US negotiate

September 20, 2013  By Rabiya S. and Jabeen Bhatti AMMAN: […]

20 September 2013

September 20, 2013 

By Rabiya S. and Jabeen Bhatti

AMMAN: Following an agreement between the US and Russia for the Syrian regime to turn over its stockpiles of chemical weapons, rebels expressed outrage and Damascenes heaved a sigh of relief this week and went back to business as usual.

“My family was finally able to return home,” said Rana, whose mother and sister fled to Lebanon after pressure from other family members.

Celebrations broke out spontaneously in honor of Bashar al Assad’s 48th birthday and children in uniforms walked to school as summer break came to an end. Across the Syrian capital, lines for bread, batteries and fuel disappeared for the first time in weeks.

Even as some in the capital were thrilled that the threat of airstrikes was momentarily gone, pro-opposition Syrians said the agreement between the US and Russia to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons arsenal constituted a “betrayal” of the Syrian people.

“It is like a game to them – they are making a joke out of the Syrian people,” said Thaair al-Masri, now an FSA fighter who owned a jewelry store before the uprising. He said he hasn’t seen his family in the two years he has been with the rebels.

The FSA has categorically rejected the agreement.

“We refuse the US-Russia agreement, there is no way we can accept waiting until mid-2014 for the chemical weapons to be destroyed,” said Salim Idris, the FSA Joint Command leader.

The rebels said any requirement for the regime to destroy the weapons is meaningless because the weapons will just be moved before the inspectors arrive.

“We have evidence to show that Hezbollah received two shipments of chemical weapons three months ago,” said Fahad al-Masri, the spokesman of the FSA in Paris.

Rebels say that they have seen similar movements of the weapons recently.

Meanwhile, the head of the Syrian Coalition, Ahmed Jarba, called the UN report on the chemical weapons attack Aug. 21 released earlier this week “the weak response of the international community in the face of the regime’s crimes.

The report confirmed that more than 1,400 people died in a chemical weapons attack in August east of Damascus, but stopped short of assigning blame to the regime for the attack.

The Syrian regime has denied using chemical weapons in Ghouta, the district east of Damascus, many of whose towns are controlled by the FSA.

“There is no justification for us to use these weapons because we are victorious on the ground,” said a Syrian security official, who asked not to be identified.

Regardless, Assad’s agreement fits a familiar pattern: Playing for more time so he can up his campaign against the opposition with conventional weapons which has so far killed more than 100,000 people in the 30-month uprising.

“The regime does not care about the chemical weapons because Assad is killing people with tanks, aircrafts and all other weapons, so the regime is not just depending on chemical weapons to maintain control,” said Thaair.

In the meantime, regardless of the postponement of the strikes, some say they aren’t taking any chances.

“My friend Fadia, an Alawite who lives on outskirts of Damascus, told me that they are all just buying food and storing it, in case anything happens,” said Qamar, a teacher and mother of two near Damascus.

“We feel afraid, we just want this to end, we are tired.”



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