UPDATE 1300 GMT: A commander of the rebel Fastiqim Union, Saqr Abu Qutaiba, has said that the ceasefire has “practically ended on the ground” because of pro-Assad actions.
The commander told the pro-opposition Eldorar that Fastiqim, prominent in Aleppo Province, is now preparing to respond to violations of the truce.
Leaders of three other factions said last Sunday that the ceasefire has failed because of the pro-Assad offensives on Wadi Barada, northwest of Damascus, and East Ghouta to the northeast of the capital.
Abu Qutaiba said rebels have not decided yet whether to participate in political talks with the regime in Kazakhstan because of the conditions on the ground.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: While declaring that he is “ready to negotiate everything”, Syria’s President Assad has drawn a line against his departure from power through political talks.
As they brokered a nominal national ceasefire on December 29, Russia and Turkey declared their intention for discussions in late January between the regime and rebels in Kazakhstan.
Assad told French media on Monday, “When you talk about negotiation regarding whether to end the conflict in Syria or talking about the future of Syria, anything, it’s fully open, there’s no limit for that negotiations.”
However, the President immediately questioned whether this was possible:
But who’s going to be there from the other side? We don’t know yet. Is it going to be real Syrian opposition? And when I say “real” it means has grassroots in Syria, not Saudi one or French one or British one – it should be Syrian opposition to discuss the Syrian issues. So, the viability or, let’s say, the success of that conference will depend on that point.
Then Assad put up the barrier to his departure, even at the end of a transitional process, that he has maintained for years amid opposition demands — still maintained — that he cannot remain in office.
My position is related to the constitution, and the constitution is very clear about the mechanism in which you can bring a president or get rid of a president. So, if they want to discuss this point, they have to discuss the constitution, and the constitution is not owned by the government or the President or by the opposition; it should be owned by the Syrian people, so you need a referendum for every constitution.
This is one of the points that could be discussed in that meeting, of course, but they cannot say “we need that President” or “we don’t need that President” because the President is related to the ballot box. If they don’t need him, let’s go to the ballot box. The Syrian people should bring a President, not part of the Syrian people.
Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez as President in 2000, finally arranged an election in 2014 as the conflict escalated. He ran against two nominal candidates, claiming 88.7% of the official vote.
The rebel faction Jaish al-Mujahideen said on Tuesday that it was unacceptable for Assad to remain during a transitional phase.
In the US, State Department spokesman John Kirby responded:
[Assad] was going to take back his whole country and we’ve seen the manner in which he sees fit to do that. So I think it’d be difficult to take any stated commitment to him about elections very seriously.
Assad effectively acknowledged that he and his military never adhered to the ceasefire, declaring that the offensive to recapture the Wadi Barada area — northwest of Damascus and held by the opposition since 2012 — would be sustained until rebels were defeated:
There’s breaching of that ceasefire on a daily basis in Syria, including Damascus, but in Damascus mainly because the terrorists occupy the main source of water of Damascus where more than five million civilians are deprived from water for the last three weeks now.
The role of the Syrian Army is to liberate that area in order to prevent those terrorists from using that water in order to suffocate the capital.
The offensive by regime and Hezbollah forces was launched in mid-December with airstrikes, shelling, and ground assaults. The pro-Assad forces have made limited gains in the area of 10 villages and between 50,000 and 100,000 people.
Wadi Barada is vital because its al-Fija springs provide more than 60% of Damascus’s water. The aerial attacks damaged the pumping facilities for the springs in late December, limiting supplies for an estimated 5.5 million people to no more than two hours per day.
The regime covered up the damage with the claim that rebels had “poisoned” the springs with diesel fuel.
To justify the offensive, the regime and its allies have claimed that the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham — which they claim are excluded from the ceasefire — are the rebel force in the area.
The opposition and rebels say JFS, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, left the area in late 2015. Local sources have confirmed that there are no more than 30 members of the group in Wadi Barada.
Justifying Aleppo’s Deaths and Destruction
Assad also justifying the campaign to retake all of Aleppo city, with thousands of civilian casualties since 2012 and widespread devastation:
Every war is about destruction, every war is about the killing, that’s why every war is bad….
But the question is: how can you liberate the civilians in those areas from the terrorists? Is it better to leave them, to leave them under their supervision, under their oppression, under their fate defined by those terrorists by beheading, by killing, by everything but not having state? Is that the role of the state, just to keep and watch? You have to liberate, and this is the price sometimes, but at the end, the people are liberated from the terrorists. That’s the question now; are they liberated or not? If yes, that’s what we have to do.
After a four-month siege and intense Russian-regime bombing, pro-Assad forces — led by Iranian units, Hezbollah fighters, a Palestinian brigade and Iranian-led Afghan and Iraqi militias — retook all of Aleppo last month.
The city had been divided since July 2012.
Pro-Regime Site Confirms Breaking of Ceasefire in Southern Aleppo
The pro-regime site Al-Masdar has proclaimed the breaking of the ceasefire by pro-Assad forces in southern Aleppo Province.
The site said Hezbollah, Iraqi military, and regime units fired missiles and shells on rebel positions in Rashidin and Khan al-Asal just after midnight.
Al-Masdar acknowledges that the attacks were on positions of the Jaish al-Fatah rebel bloc, who are covered by December 29 ceasefire. It says, “Hezbollah and their allies are expected to launch a massive offensive in the southern countryside of Aleppo in the coming weeks.”
Local pro-opposition sources reported last week that Iranian units and Iranian-led militia are being flown into airbases near Aleppo for a possible offensive.