Rebel fac­tion leader says Syria truce deal is a ‘trap’

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Philip Issa

BEIRUT — Rebel fac­tions in Syria ex­pressed deep reser­va­tions on Sun­day about the terms of a U. S.- Rus­sian deal that seeks to restart the peace process for the war-torn coun­try, with the leader of at least one U.S.-backed rebel fac­tion pub­licly call­ing the of­fer a “trap.”

The se­cond in com­mand of the pow­er­ful, ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive Ahrar al-Sham group con­demned the su­per­power agree­ment as an ef­fort to se­cure Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment and drive rebel fac­tions apart.

“A rebellious peo­ple who have fought and suf­fered for six years can­not ac­cept half-so­lu­tions,” said Ali al-Omar in a video state­ment.

But the com­man­der and other rebel lead­ers stopped short of fully re­ject­ing the in­terim cease-fire, which is slated to come into ef­fect in stages be­gin­ning at sun­set Monday.

The deal an­nounced Satur­day that was ham­mered out by U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov al­lows the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment to con­tinue to strike at alQaida-linked mil­i­tants un­til the U.S. and Rus­sia take over the task in one week’s time.

The ar­range­ment has di­vided rebel fac­tions, who have de­pended on the might of the pow­er­ful alQaida-linked Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham fac­tion, for­merly known as the Nusra Front, to re­sist gov­ern­ment ad­vances around the con­tested city of Aleppo.

Al-Omar said his group would “refuse the tar­get­ing of any fac­tion of our blessed fac­tions” and called on rebels to unify into a sin­gle front. Still, a se­nior of­fi­cial in­side Ahrar al-Sham said rebels would abide by the cease-fire to re­group af­ter a pun­ish­ing con­flict with pro-gov­ern­ment forces over Aleppo.

Other fac­tions l ess closely tied to Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham, in­clud­ing those backed by Turk­ish ground forces in the north­ern fron­tier area, will pub­licly com­mit to the agree­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Ahrar alSham of­fi­cial.

Un­der the terms of the agree­ment, the U.S. and Rus­sia will co­or­di­nate to tar­get the Is­lamic State in Syria and Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham, while rebels and the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment will be ex­pected to stop at­tack­ing one an­other. The deal has re­ceived the en­dorse­ment of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment and its key al­lies — Rus­sia, Iran and the Le­banese mil­i­tant group Hezbol­lah.

But that sce­nario is com­pli­cated by the fact that Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham re­mains in­ter­twined with sev­eral other fac­tions.

It is not clear how those gov­ern­ments in­tend to dis­tin­guish be­tween Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham and other rebel fac­tions or how they will be able to at­tack the al- Qaida-linked mil­i­tants with­out hit­ting other rebels as well.

Over 2,000 peo­ple have been killed in fight­ing over the past 40 days in Aleppo, in­clud­ing 700 civil­ians and 160 chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to a Syr­ian hu­man rights group.

One of the more im­me­di­ate goals of the Ker­ryLavrov agree­ment is to al­low the United Na­tions to es­tab­lish aid cor­ri­dors into Aleppo.

MO­HAMMED BADRA/EPA

Fire­fight­ers re­spond near Da­m­as­cus on Sun­day to an airstrike by forces loyal to the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment. The ac­tion came a day be­fore a cease-fire agree­ment goes into ef­fect.

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