Wed, July 06, 2022

perspective

Al-Qaeda a thorn in the side of Syrian ceasefire deal


The deal between the United States and Russia, which has the support of the Syrian government and the begrudging backing of the opposition, allows violence in the country to continue, provided it is targeted against Islamic State, al-Qaeda or other extrem

The US has been bombing Islamic State since September 2014 and has launched air-strikes against the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria. The Russians started an aerial campaign 12 months later and have largely focused on striking rebel groups, including hardline and more moderate factions.
Allowing the war to continue even after the ceasefire is meant to go into place tonight has raised concerns about the viability of the plan.
However, it is also a sign that the main objective of the US is to lessen hostilities, and there is no expectation that the entire civil war will soon be brought to a close.
“This ceasefire is impossible to achieve,” said Sami Obeid, a commander of the Jaish al-Mujahedeen group, a rebel faction receiving foreign backing and currently operating in northern Aleppo province.
The government will use the option to continue attacking al-Nusra or Islamic State as an excuse to violate the ceasefire, he said.
Russia might do the same, cautions Hassan Hassan, a Syria expert with the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.”They might say that they’ll stop attacking certain areas, but on the front lines, when there are moving targets, they can always claim that they are targeting al-Nusra-led hostilities,” Hassan told the blog forum Syria Deeply.
Moreover, the Moscow-Washington deal is quite specific. It requires all parties involved in the conflict to agree to the ceasefire by today at noon Damascus time (5pm Bangkok time).
It remains unclear if some hardline rebels, including Ahrar al-Sham,one of the largest groups in northern Syria, will sign up.
Iran, a staunch backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a recruiter of Shi’ite militants to fight alongside his forces, indicated earlier this week that from its perspective Ahrar remains a terrorist group.
Among combatants, the overwhelming majority of rebels are opposed to Islamic State. But the relationship with al-Nusra, and certainly Ahrar, is more complicated.
Al-Nusra fighters have fought alongside other, more moderate groups, for much of the civil war. In some areas, al-Nusra rules alone but in others, it co-exists with rebels who are signing up to the truce and trying to distinguish between them from the air will be hard.
The ceasefire deal comes as Russian air-strikes have been pounding the rebels and the areas they control, including civilian infrastucture.
Hospitals have repeatedly been hit in Aleppo and Idlib, near theTurkish border.
The government is on the advance, thanks to the air-strikes and friendly foreign fighters on the ground, including Iraqi Shi’ites and militants from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement. Government troops look set to put rebel-held eastern Aleppo under siege.
The most successful group in the war against Islamic State on the ground is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which continue, aided by US air-strikes, to seize territory from the extremists in eastern Syria.
Turkey, which heavily shelled the YPG for days last week and accused it of attacks on its soil, says it reserves the right to retaliate against the group, even after the ceasefire enters into effect.
The YPG, which must still formally sign up to the ceasefire, says it has never attacked Turkey. Ankara has presented no proof. 
Tensions are high owing to the YPG’s links to Kurdish militants fighting inside Turkey and because the Syrian Kurds are now taking territory from weakened rebels in Aleppo.
Turkey is now watching as the rebels it backs, including hardline Islamic groups, cede ground. It also fears the YPG will next seek totake a key piece of territory from Islamic State on the Turkish border and connect all the Kurdish areas of northern Syria.
The opposition’s dream of toppling al-Assad seems further away than at any time in the last few years, thanks to the intense Russian support.
For the rebels, stopping the fight against al-Assad now, while al-Qaeda continue to keep up the war against the government, is a blow to their legitimacy while highlighting how they are no longer in the driver’s seat. 
It is a bitter pill to swallow.

Published : February 25, 2016

By : Shabtai Gold, Weedah Hamzah