Through truce and reconciliation in Syria


Syrian air strikes against Al Waer, near Homs, should have been expected. 

Al Waer, a large built-up district, is the last under insurgent control in Homs province and remains a potential threat to the government-held city of Homs.

Insurgent holdouts from Al Qaeda’s Jabhat Al Nusra were evacuated from the Old City by the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the government in May 2014. 

Hundreds of militants and their families were granted safe passage to Al Waer and other areas north of Homs under a UN-mediated arrangement.

Some Old City insurgents, the majority belonging to Al Qaeda’s Jabhat Al Nusra, were bussed to Al Waer, some to militant-held towns north of Homs. 

Others asked for amnesty, were held in a facility monitored by the UN, interviewed by the authorities, and returned to their families.

While few civilians stayed in the Old City, those who had left returned to see if their homes were damaged.

Rubble was cleared and teams of electricians were quickly deployed by the local authorities to restore power.

This evacuation operation became the successful model for internationally facilitated withdrawals of fighters occupying urban areas.

In September last year, a deal was struck by UN mediators for the withdrawal of fighters in the besieged resort towns of Zabadani and Madaya, near the Lebanese border. 

The fighters were meant to depart for Idlib via Lebanon in exchange for the evacuation of elderly and ailing civilians trapped by takfiris in the Shiite villages of Kefraya and Foa in Idlib.

However, fighters from the hardline Ansar Al Sham in Zabadani and Madaya refused to abide by the deal, leaving these two towns encircled and besieged by government forces and their Hizbollah allies.

These towns have become high-profile locations due to the sieges that allowed little food, fuel and medical aid to reach the townspeople.

While aid agencies, foreign governments and journalists condemn the government for the siege, no one speaks about the takfiris who did not honour the agreement that would have freed from hunger and illness the civilians of Zabadani and Madaya.

On December 9, 2015, 272 fighters and 447 civilians pulled out of Al Waer in a convoy that took them to Idlib, which had been seized by Jaish Al Fatah, an alliance of taqfiri groups dominated by Al Nusra.

This operation was hailed as a major breakthrough. 

A UN-ICRC-sponsored aid convoy delivered food and medicine the very next day.

This correspondent visited Al Waer, located next to a large army base, on December 15, 2015. There was no siege. The situation was relaxed. Men and women with jobs or business in Homs were coming and going.

Returnees’ parcels were examined by army officers. Melting frozen meat was being shifted from a Homsi van to a lorry from Al Waer. 

Medical supplies were being loaded into a van by a doctor who said there were about 2,000 fighters from Al Nusra, Ahrar and the Free Syrian Army in Al Waer.

Many were foreigners who did not want to budge and put pressure on others to remain, although the full evacuation of Al Waer was meant to take place by February.

No one has said anything about this deal breaking down.

The fighters remain in Al Waer, now besieged by the Syrian army and targeted by warning air strikes that this situation cannot continue.

During an August 24 meeting between government officials and an opposition committee, a truce was agreed upon, but Damascus demanded that all armed elements and their relatives leave Al Waer.

The opposition did not accept this demand. There would have been no siege if the UN-brokered deal had been honoured and the takfiris had departed for Idlib. 

In spite of the stalemate, on August 23 and 25, convoys of food and other supplies for 75,000 people reached Al Waer.

The UN humanitarian figure who helped reach these defunct deals, Yacoub Al Hillo, said Syrians would have been spared five and a half years of war if the international community had had more “political guts”.

Indeed, “guts” were needed to tell the truth about what has been happening. Unfortunately, Hillo, a Sudanese national, has been relocated to Liberia, although he is greatly needed in Syria.

With the examples of Zabadani, Madaya and Al Waer in mind, it is hardly surprising that the Syrian government decided to handle the evacuation of Daraya itself. 

Last Friday and Saturday, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (the lead humanitarian organisation in the country) arranged for the transport of up to 700 fighters from the Islamic Martyrs and Islamic Union brigades and their families to Idlib and of 3,200 civilians to a reception centre near Kisweh south of Damascus.

Some fighters opted for amnesty and were taken to a facility where they could be interviewed, in line with the Old City model.

Daraya was emptied of its inhabitants, but Damascus promised to rebuild and allow civilians to return.

The withdrawal of fighters from Daraya was a major victory for the Syrian army and government. 

A strategic suburb of the capital, Daraya became an iconic protest hub during 2011. 

Unfortunately, Daraya also became a battleground between armed groups and the army. 

Daraya is located near the West Mezza military airfield and not far from the ministerial complex in Damascus’ upmarket quarter of Kafar Sousse. It was also the last holdout in Western Ghouta. 

Daraya’s capitulation to the “truce and reconciliation” programme of the government boosted the army’s morale and put an end to the threat of mortars falling on Damascus from that quarter.

Daraya had no choice but to accept a deal. The army had taken 70 per cent of its territory, squeezing the fighters and civilians into a small area. 

Daraya was also cut off from its orchards and vegetable patches on the edge of the built-up area and from the neighbouring suburb of Muadamiya, where Daraya could secure supplies, weapons and reinforcements although Muadamiya had reached an uneasy truce deal with the government in 2014.

Women from Daraya, deprived of food and medicine, protested that the situation could not continue.

The Syrian government’s strategy, adopted several years ago, is to try to “take back” the country from the largely takfiri insurgents, little by little through the “truce and reconciliation” process.

For both the government and the army, Daraya was an essential part of this process.


2 replies

  1. How can peace be established as long as ‘special forces’ support terrorist factions, continue to buy stolen ‘ISIS’ oil etc.

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