Syrian rebels say talks with Russia over southern truce fail

A Syrian rebel fighter aims his Kalashnikov assault rifle as he stands near the frontline against government forces west of the embattled southern city of Daraa on July 3, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 05 July 2018

Syrian rebels say talks with Russia over southern truce fail

  • More than 30 towns have already agreed to return to regime control
  • Russia insisted the army would return to its pre-2011 positions

BEIRUT: Syrian rebels said Wednesday talks with regime ally Russia over the country’s south had collapsed after Moscow threatened a renewed military offensive if they did not agree to tough surrender terms.

Russia has been backing a two-week offensive by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces against rebels in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.

But it is simultaneously brokering talks with rebel towns for negotiated surrenders in a carrot-and-stick strategy that Russia and the regime have successfully used in the past.

More than 30 towns have already agreed to return to regime control and talks were focused on remaining rebel territory in Daraa’s western countryside and the southern half of the city.
Rebels met with a Russian delegation on Wednesday afternoon to deliver their decision on Moscow’s proposal for a regime takeover of the rest of the south.

About 90 minutes after the meeting was set to begin, the joint rebel command for the south announced the talks had “failed.”

Russian air strikes against insurgents in southwest Syria resumed on Wednesday, residents and a war monitor said, after the failure of the talks.

“Negotiations with the Russian enemy in Busra Al-Sham have failed, after they insisted on the surrender of heavy weapons,” the command said in an online statement.

Their spokesman Ibrahim Jabbawi said the talks had not produced “any results” because Moscow had insisted rebels hand over their heavy-duty arms in one go.

“The session ended. No future meetings have been set,” Jabbawi told AFP.

A source close to the talks said rebels would be willing to hand over heavy weapons in multiple phases.

The meeting followed an hours-long session on Tuesday, in which rebels proposed the army’s withdrawal from recaptured towns and safe passage to opposition territory elsewhere for fighters or civilians unwilling to live under regime control.


But Moscow had roundly rejected the terms, the source said, and responded with a counter-proposal.

It told negotiators population transfers were not on the table in the south, although it had agreed to them in other areas like Eastern Ghouta and Aleppo.

Russia insisted the army would return to its pre-2011 positions, and local police would take over towns in coordination with Russian military police.

The source had said before Wednesday’s meeting that the rebels were expected to give their “final answer.”
“Today will be the last round — either the rebels agree to these terms, or the military operations resume,” the source said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes had stopped for several days to allow for negotiations.

There were no immediate reports of a resumption of bombing or other hostilities after the collapse of the talks.

Moscow has used tough deadlines in the past with rebels but has sometimes extended them.

That blend of military pressure and negotiated surrenders has expanded the regime’s control of Daraa province to around 60 percent — double what it held when it began operations on June 19.

The violence has displaced between 270,000 and 330,000 people, according to the UN, many south to the border with Jordan or west near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Both countries have kept their borders closed despite mounting calls by rights groups to let Syrians escape to safety.

Displaced families 

Some displaced families whose hometowns had fallen back under regime control have been returning, but even that journey is dangerous.

Eleven members of a single family were killed overnight in a land mine blast as they returned to Al-Mseifra, which had “reconciled” with the government, the Observatory said Wednesday.
More than 140 civilians have died since the assault began.

World powers have criticized the operation for violating a cease-fire announced last year by Washington, Amman and Moscow, but they have not managed to halt the blitz.

The United Nations Security Council will hold a closed-door emergency meeting on Thursday on the offensive.

Residents and displaced Daraa natives gathered in front of UN offices in a rebel-held town in Quneitra province to protest global inaction.

“Civilians who fled and ended up living in tents or without tents out in the open organized this protest in front of the UN offices to ask the United Nations and the world for protection and international guarantees for their lives,” said Ali Salhadi, an opposition official.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was in Moscow on Wednesday for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Safadi called for a cease-fire in the south, saying the developing situation was of “great importance” to Jordan.

Lavrov, meanwhile, said Moscow was helping Syria’s army “convince” rebels to lay down their arms.

Made homeless by war, Syrians sell furniture to survive

A photo taken on June 13, 2019, shows a second-hand store where displaced Syrians (unseen) sell their belongings on the outskirts of the Syrian town of Abyan in the rebel-held western Aleppo province. (AFP)
Updated 2 min 49 sec ago

Made homeless by war, Syrians sell furniture to survive

  • The Idlib region is supposed to be protected by a buffer zone deal signed by Russia and rebel backer Turkey in September

ATME, SYRIA: For years, Abu Ali sold used furniture and home appliances for a living. But he never thought Syria’s war would one day make him homeless and force him to sell his own.
His family is one of dozens stranded in olive groves along the Turkish border, who say they have had to sell their basic possessions to ensure survival.
“I sold them to provide food, drink and clothes for my children,” said the father of five, who now houses his family in a tent.
An opposition bastion in Syria’s northwest has come under heavy regime and Russian bombardment since late April, despite a truce deal intended to protect the jihadist-run enclave’s three million inhabitants.
The spike in violence in and around Idlib province has killed hundreds of civilians, displaced 330,000 more, and sparked fears of one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the eight-year civil war.
Abu Ali, his wife and their children fled their home in southern Idlib in early May, hitting the road north to seek shelter in the relative safety of the olive groves close to the border.
“I used to have a shop to buy and sell used items,” such as fridges and furniture in the village of Maaret Hurma, he told AFP, sitting in the shade of a tree near the border town of Atme.

A few days after fleeing his home village, he hired two trucks for 50,000 Syrian pounds (over $110) to bring “eight fridges, bedroom furnishings, seven washing machines, and several gas stoves” up to the olive grove.
But under the summer sun in the makeshift camp, the merchandise soon plummeted in value.
“I was forced to get rid of it or sell it — even at a very low price,” the 35-year-old said, his chin stubble already greying under a head of thick dark brown hair.
For example, the going price for a fridge originally bought for 25,000 Syrian pounds (more than $55) can be as low as a fifth of that price.
In Atme, some families have stored their fridges and other appliances in a single tent to protect them from the elements.
Outside, a top-loader washing machine sits in the shade of a tree.
Awad Abu Abdu, 35, said he too was forced to part with all his household items for a pittance.
“It was very dear to me. It was all I had accumulated over a lifetime of hard work,” said the former construction worker, who fled the village of Tramla with his wife and six children.
“I sold all our home’s furniture for just 50,000 Syrian pounds,” he said, dressed in a faded grey t-shirt fraying around the collar.
After transport costs, he was left with only half that amount to feed his family, he said.
Abu Abdu accused buyers of “cheating us, exploiting the displaced,” but said he had no other choice.
“Everything’s so expensive... and there are no organizations looking out for us,” he said.

The Idlib region is supposed to be protected by a buffer zone deal signed by Russia and rebel backer Turkey in September.
But the accord was never properly implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from the planned cordon.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, took over administrative control of the region in January.
In the town of Atareb — about 30 kilometers from Atme, in Aleppo province — Abu Hussein received a new delivery at his shop of second-hand household appliances and furniture.
“Every day, more than ten cars arrive loaded up with items the displaced try to sell us,” said the 35-year-old.
“This means we have to pay relatively low prices, because the supply is so high” and it’s hard to then sell them all, he said.
Back in Atme, 50-year-old Waleeda Derwish said she hoped she would find someone to buy her fridge, washing machine and television, to help her provide for her eight children.
The widow transported the electrical items to “save them from bombing or looting” in Maaret Hurma, she said, a bright blue scarf wrapped around her wrinkled face.
Now the appliances represent the family’s only lifeline, she said.
“I’m forced to sell them. How else are we supposed to live?“