Syrian war opposition seeks 'guarantees'

Just hours before new ceasefire negotiated between US and Russian Federation is to start, rebel parties demand clarification.

Yonatan Roberts ,

Syrian rebels smoke waterpipes during lull in fighting (file)
Syrian rebels smoke waterpipes during lull in fighting (file)

Just hours before a ceasefire agreement between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov was supposed to commence, Syria's main opposition umbrella group and several rebel factions called for "guarantees" on the implementation of a truce deal before endorsing it. Likewise, the Syrian Government's genuine commitment to the ceasefire is less than clear, as they have declared that they will use this opportunity to, "liberate every area from the terrorists." In the past, "terrorist" has been a code word for opposition forces.

According to the New York Times, almost immediately after the agreement was finalized, there was a considerable uptick in violence. According to NRP's Alice Fordham, it is not difficult to see why this agreement could fail. The deal is founded on the assumption that as the patrons of the respective belligerents, the US and Russia, should be able to enforce compliance with the deal. However, on the ground, the two sides view each other with deep distrust. This distrust is so deep, that it mocked a similar deal reached earlier this year.

"We want to know what the guarantees are," said Salem al-Muslet, spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, which groups political and military opposition factions. In a conflict in which the lines between "terrorism" and legitimate military activity have been increasingly blurred, opposition groups are keen to delimit these concepts, and define the consequences for violators. "We are asking for guarantees especially from the United States, which is a party to the agreement," Muslet told AFP.

Rebel groups on Sunday sent a letter to the United States outlining a list of "concerns" over the deal, which calls for a 48-hour ceasefire "anywhere where the opposition is present." This deal would be renewable after the 48 hours have passed. In the text seen by AFP, rebels wrote they would "deal positively with the idea of the ceasefire," but did not explicitly back it.

"The clauses of the agreement that have been shared with us do not include any clear guarantees or monitoring mechanisms... or repercussions if there are violations," they said. Ahmad al-Saoud, who heads the US-backed Division 13 rebel group which signed the letter, said they had received no response to their concerns.

According to the deal, aid access to the country's many besieged and"hard-to-reach" areas is set to begin, with government and rebel forces ensuring unimpeded humanitarian access to areas, and in particular to the city of Aleppo.

Questions remain, however, about how the ceasefire will apply in several parts of the country where the former al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, previously known as Al-Nusra Front, is present.

The deal says that Washington and Moscow will begin joint targeting of jihadists including Fateh al-Sham in a week, if the ceasefire holds. But the jihadist group is a powerful partner for many opposition factions on the ground, and the rebels' letter to the US warned of repercussions if the group was targeted. Striking Fateh al-Sham "will spark anger that will be directed towards the USA and be another factor in the failure of the ceasefire," it said.

Ahrar al-Sham, an ally of Fateh al-Sham in Idlib and other provinces,said late Sunday that the truce deal would only serve to boost the regime.

This would seem continue a trend of ambiguous agreements being made by world actors, without democratic involvement by all parties directly concerned. The US Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister have characterized the agreement as a new US-Russia military "partnership."

Based extensively on a report by AFP