PHOTO: Riad Hijab, the coordinator of the opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee
- Free Syrian Army Calls on Dissident Rebel Faction To “Return to Revolution”
- Islamic State Overruns Key Regime Position Near Aleppo
- Islamic State Counter-Attack Cuts Regime Route East of Aleppo
UPDATE 1900 GMT: The Syrian Foreign Ministry has said that the regime accepts the cessation of hostilities “on the basis of continuing the military efforts for combating terrorism against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other Al Qaeda-linked terrorist organizations”.
The regime had initially withheld acceptance of the US-Russian plan for the cessation on Saturday, prompting Russian signals that Damascus should comply.
The formula of “other terrorist organizations”, first used by Moscow, leaves open the possibility of attacks on some rebel factions.
The statement from an “official source” also said the Syrian military would retaliate against “any violation committed by these groups”.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Syria’s opposition-rebel bloc has provisionally accepted a US-Russian proposal for a temporary ceasefire, beginning on Saturday.
The statement was issued on Monday after the HNC, meeting in Saudi Arabia, discussed the US-Russian plan. Riad Hijab, the coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee, said the agreement would be “according to international guarantees”.
The joint US-Russian announcement said they had agreed on a “cessation of hostilities” — first proposed by the International Syria Support Group on February 11 — with all sides accepting by midday on February 26 and stopping any fighting by midnight.
Attacks can continue on the Islamic State and the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra. Russia and the US said they would would establish a communication hotline and — “if necessary and appropriate” — a working group to exchange intelligence after the cessation takes effect.
Still, questions remain over implementation of the cessation. The opposition-rebel HNC had said last weekend, as it proposed a temporary ceasefire of two to three weeks, that a cessation should also cover Jabhat al-Nusra, since the jihadists are in opposition-controlled areas.
But President Vladimir Putin not only said that Moscow’s strikes will be maintained against Jabhat al-Nusra but may also continue against other rebel factions labelled as “terrorist”:
As for ISIS, Al-Nusra and other terror groups –– regarded as such by the UN Security Council — they are totally exempt from the truce. Strikes against them will continue.
Moscow has repeatedly said that the leading rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam should be considered as terrorist organizations.
After a phone conversation with Putin, President Obama did not address the issue but simply “emphasized that the priority now was to ensure positive responses by the Syrian regime and armed opposition as well as faithful implementation by all parties in order to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, galvanize UN-led political process, and focus on defeating ISIL [the Islamic State]”.
According to the former President of the Syrian National Coalition, Hadi al-Bahra, US Secretary of State John Kerry again warned opposition and rebel groups that they faced bombardment if they did not accept the US-Russian terms.
@rmslim Secretary Kerry has said “We are clear, if you don’t choose be part of it then you are choosing to perhaps make yourself a target,”
— Hadi Albahra (@hadialbahra) February 22, 2016
Perhaps most importantly, the Assad regime offered no indication whether it would accept the Friday deadline for agreement.
The HNC expressed scepticism, with Hijab saying that “he does not expect the Assad regime, Russia and Iran to cease hostilities, due to their realisation that the regime’s survival depends on the continuation of its campaign of oppression, killing and forced displacement”.
“Therefore, the regime and its allies will continue to derail the political process and evade the inevitable,” the opposition-rebel bloc concluded.
In a possible allusion to its own concern over President Assad’s acceptance, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “Russia will carry out the needed work with Damascus” to ensure implementation of the cessation.
Putin also showed uncertainty, “I would like to hope that the Syrian leadership and all our partners in the region and beyond will support the set of actions chosen by representatives of Russia and the US.”
Free Syrian Army Calls on Dissident Rebel Faction To “Return to Revolution”
The Free Syrian Army has called on the dissident rebel faction Jaish al-Thuwar to “return to the Revolution”.
Jaish al-Thuwar has allied with the Kurdish militia YPG in attacks against rebels in northern Aleppo Province.
The FSA said Jaish al-Thuwar was composed of “mercenary gangs who have been assembled” from “men with criminal records, criminal thugs, and bandits who have the same interests with the incoming money from the Assad Regime, Russia, and Iranian militias”. It accused the faction of “ethnic Cleansing, forced displacement, and demographic changes” to help the “extremist terrorist groups” of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD), its YPG militia, and the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
The FSA appealed to fighters “to defect from the criminal gang” to rejoin the rebellion.
Jaish al-Thuwar includes many fighters from the Syrian Revolutionary Forces, who were defeated by the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra in late 2014.
Islamic State Overruns Key Regime Position Near Aleppo
The Islamic State has overrun a key regime position near Aleppo city, reportedly capturing or killing pro-Assad troops.
ISIS quickly moved into the town of Khanaser, southeast of Aleppo, after cutting the Khanaser-Ithriyah road on Sunday and repelling a regime counter-attack.
Local sources said the Islamic State overran the regime positions, but it was unclear how many troops were captured rather than killed. It was also unclear how many of the troops were Syrian Army and how many were pro-Assad foreign militiamen.
Khanaser is on the main regime supply route into Aleppo city.
Islamic State Counter-Attack Cuts Regime Route East of Aleppo
An Islamic State counter-attack east of Aleppo city has cut an important road for movement of regime forces and supplies.
ISIS occupied the Khanaser-Ithriyah road was occupied on Sunday. The attack may have been joined by some fighters who were with the Jund al-Aqsa faction, which has effectively disbanded this month.
Pro-regime outlets say the Syrian Army’s Republican Guards and special forces were unable to retake villages near the route on Monday.
Control of the road has changed hands on several occasions, including ISIS occupation last October, and it is likely that regime forces will be able to recapture it. However, the news dents the Syrian military’s recent proclamations of advances in eastern Aleppo Province against the Islamic State, including the relief of the siege of the Kweiris airbase.