PHOTO: March in East Ghouta on Sunday condemning fighting between rebels (Mohammad Abo Samer)
Bahira al-Zarier, Lama a-Shami, Abdulmajid al-Idlibi, and Maria Nelson write for Syria Direct on protests in the opposition-held East Ghouta area, near Damascus, against a surge in conflict between rebel factions:
Fierce infighting between Jaish al-Islam and forces led by rival faction Failaq al-Rahman entered its fifth day on Monday despite ceasefire overtures by both sides, as hundreds of East Ghouta residents called on rebels to stop fighting each other and start fighting the regime.
“There is a mass demonstration right now, headed towards Douma,” East Ghouta activist Abu Baraa al-Dimashqi told Syria Direct on Monday, using a pseudonym. The march began in Hamouriyeh, 5km southwest of Douma, the de facto capital of the rebel-held east Damascus suburbs.
Dozens of demonstrators carried signs bearing revolutionary flags with slogans such as “we’re all stuck together” as they marched on Monday in videos posted online by pro-opposition media.
For five days, Jaish al-Islam and rival Islamist factions Failaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Fustat — made up of Jabhat a-Nusra and Fajr al-Ummah — have been battling for dominance in multiple towns across the regime-blockaded East Ghouta suburbs. The in-fighting between the strongest rebel factions came after months of back-and-forth skirmishes, assassination attempts, and arrests. Tensions exploded into battles after raids by Failaq a-Rahman on JAI positions across Ghouta last Thursday.
“Enough Blood — Ghouta is Falling Apart”
Monday’s demonstration condemning that infighting was preceded the day before by a procession of hundreds that “set out from the heart of East Ghouta, Kafr Batna”, and marched through several towns before arriving in Douma city, East Ghouta activist Abu Ayman told Syria Direct on Monday. Along the way, the number of demonstrators swelled to hundreds, in videos and pictures posted online by local activists.
“Failaq a-Rahman, Jaish a-Islam, enough blood” read one sign in Sunday’s protest.
“Aleppo is burning, Ghouta is falling apart” (Said Tateen)
“People came out from the mosques after noon prayers on Sunday to express their anger, because they’re the only ones hurt by the infighting,” said Abu Ayman. “Most of the civilian actors, aid groups, media and representatives of medical organizations participated.”
Speaking out against the warring factions was not without risk. “While the demonstration was returning, Jabhat a-Nusra fired upon and arrested two of the activists in Misraba,” says activist al-Dimashqi. “One of them was released today.”
Following Sunday’s demonstration, Failaq a-Rahman announced a “unilateral 24-hour ceasefire starting at 6AM on Monday as an initiative for the beginning of the solution,” in a statement posted online.
The initiative fell apart almost immediately, says East Ghouta activist al-Dimashqi. “There are violent clashes in Beit Sawa and people have died on both sides,” he says. Spokesmen with Failaq a-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam accused each other’s faction of sparking Monday’s fighting on social media.
“A civilian woman and a child were killed about an hour ago,” al-Dimashqi told Syria Direct on Monday afternoon. “There are no precise numbers on those killed so far as a result of the infighting, but it’s around 100 civilians and fighters.”
“Stop fighting among yourselves and go back to the fronts” (Said Tateen)
Jaish al-Islam Proposes Ceasefire
Later the same day, Jaish al-Islam announced it had accepted a “ceasefire initiative presented by the people of Ghouta” over the weekend. The terms of the agreement, published online by JAI, would roll back all advances made by all the factions since last Wednesday.
JAI also accused Failaq al-Rahman of not acknowledging the initiative and called on fighters “not to respond to the orders of those who want you to fire on your brothers,” adding “the fronts against the Assad gangs are waiting for all of us.”
As of press time, Failaq al-Rahman had not responded to the announcement or confirmed that it had received an initiative.
Despite both sides claiming they are ready for a ceasefire, Ghouta residents are demanding a solution, says al-Dimashqi. “Like Sunday’s demonstration, it is to put pressure on the fighters to turn their weapons towards the front.”
Coinciding with the infighting, regime forces are “trying to invade southern Ghouta and are advancing on some axes”, JAI spokesman Islam Alloush tweeted on Sunday. JAI claims Jaish al-Fustat and Failaq al-Rahman have cut off supply routes into the southern al-Marj region, effectively blockading their forces as they battle the regime.