As Syria truce holds, al-Qaida af­fil­i­ate de­nounces it

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Bassem Mroue

BEIRUT >> With much of Syria calm for the past 24 hours, a pow­er­ful al-Qaida-linked group sharply crit­i­cized the U.S.-Rus­sian­bro­kered cease-fire, say­ing Tues­day its real aim was to keep Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad in power.

The ex­trem­ist group was in talks with other rebel fac­tions for a pos­si­ble merger, a move that could dash Washington and Moscow’s hopes of dis­tanc­ing it from the wider in­sur­gency and sab­o­tage the truce.

The de­nun­ci­a­tion of the deal came as ac­tivists and state me­dia said the truce, which took ef­fect at sun­set Mon­day, was hold­ing de­spite some vi­o­la­tions. The Syr­ian army said it would abide by the cease-fire un­til mid­night Sun­day, while main­tain­ing its right to de­fend it­self against any vi­o­la­tions.

The truce ex­cludes al-Qaida’s af­fil­i­ate, known as Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham, and the more pow­er­ful Is­lamic State group, which are both des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions by the United Na­tions. The first week will be cru­cial: Dur­ing that time, all fight­ing be­tween As­sad’s forces and the rebels is to stop, although As­sad’s forces can con­tinue airstrikes against IS and alQaida-linked mil­i­tants.

If the calm holds for seven days, the U.S. and Rus­sian mil­i­taries would then set up a new cen­ter to co­or­di­nate strikes against IS and the alQaida af­fil­i­ate, pre­vi­ously known as the Nusra Front.

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