‘De-escalation’ in Northern Homs: What Does It Hide?

‘De-escalation’ in Northern Homs: What Does It Hide?

Enab Baladi Enab Baladi
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Children sitting on the side of the road in one of al-Hawla neighborhoods in rural Homs - 25 July 2017 (Enab Baladi)

Assad’s Forces continue their violations of Homs’ northern countryside despite the region’s accession to the Egyptian-brokered ‘De-escalation Zones’ agreement, which ended all the military operations between the two parties: The Syrian Regime and opposition.

In the past a few days, the region has been attacked by warplanes, missiles and artillery from the villages and military checkpoints around the northern countryside.

The Negotiations Committee made a new agreement with the Russian side on October 4 to immediately enforce a cease-fire and to open the humanitarian crossings agreed upon by the two sides, in addition to handing the detainees’ file to the Russian delegation, as the previous agreement on August witnessed various violations.

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Soothing Injections

Enab Baladi interviewed people from Talbiseh, al-Rastan and al-Hawla districts in Homs governorate who consider the ‘de-escalation’ agreement as soothing injections which the negotiating Russian side gives to civilians and military factions to distract them from preparing for new battles against Assad’s forces.

According to Abdul Rahman, the agreement has both negative and positive sides. “The positive side is [people’s] stable psychological situation resulting from the quietness in most of northern Homs’ areas, which were living in the war’s atmosphere and its accompanying daily shelling,” said he.

As for the negative side, he said, it lies in fragmentation between two tendencies, to be with or against the negotiations. “The Russian side is trying to instigate conflict between the military factions and institutions to create a loophole to go deep in the region using a new policy under the cover of a truce.”

Activist Wael Abu Rayyan agrees with Abdul Rahman considering that the Russian side as an occupier and that it can never be a peacemaker; it views the region the way the Syrian regime does.”

“The truce aims to win the war through politics resorting to procrastination,” said he.

“The Russian truce north of Homs is almost suspended because Russia in its negotiations has reached the detainees’ file, considered as the most prominent. […] this term will consist of promises of tightening and loosening,” according to the activist.

As for the promises that have been given to the side responsible for the negotiations on the part of Homs’ countryside,  Abu Rayyan says that,  on the ground, none of these promises have been implemented, whether the humanitarian crossings or controlling local and foreign militias.

According to the activist, Russia does not own the decision concerning the detainee’s file because the militias supporting the Syrian regime are the ones to decide, for they are the actual force in control.

What Does the Agreement Include?

On October 4, 2017, the Negotiations Committee in Homs’ northern countryside and  Hama’s southern countryside reached an agreement with Russia on a ceasefire and the opening of the crossings. The Committee said that a commission of its members met with the Russian delegation at al-Dar al-Kabira crossing.

The tow side agreed to enforce an immediate cease-fire and to open the humanitarian crossings chosen and agreed upon by the two of them, in addition to handing the detainees’ file to the Russian delegation.

The Negotiations Committee handed in the detainees’ file, which contains details about 12174 detainees, to the Russian side which pledged to work on it seriously.

Moscow made a proposal to the opposition factions in the northern countryside of Homs, last August, through the Egyptian intelligence with a Russian guarantor, via al-Ghad al-Soury Syrian party represented by Ahmad Jarba and, a former of the Syrian Coalition, Abdul Salam al-Najib.

The agreement includes an emphasis on “The unity of the Syrian territories and not to seek to divide them, and not to infringe with the control areas by all parties.” In addition to making efforts to establish a committee to look into the conditions of detainees, to study their release by all parties, provided that the guarantor is the Russian side.

Following the agreement between the involved sides, control forces consisting of members from Chechnya are deployed and food, fuel, goods and spare parts are allowed to enter Homs’ northern countryside without any restrictions on the amount.

Moscow stipulated that “The factions that bear the ideology of al-Qaeda should not be supported.” The proposal also stated that “The Civil Administration is within the jurisdiction of the civil offices and the local councils.”

Under the proposal, building materials are allowed to start the reconstruction process after the quantity has been submitted and studied by a specializing committee.

However,  after the agreement, the cities and towns of the of Homs’ countryside were divided over the Russian offer, some agreed to it, while others refused it due to the absence of a Turkish guarantor.

To Enab Baladi, Abdul Salam al-Najib, al-Ghad al-Soury Party’s member and the mediator of the agreement, said that “The Negotiation Committee in northern Homs was serious at the beginning of the agreement. However, Ahrar al-Cham and the Ikhwan tried to abort it, but they could not.”

No Action on the Ground

Turning to the situation on the ground, activist Mahmoud al-Jada’an said that the current negotiations are hazy so far because the shelling, both aerial and with heavy artillery, is still going on.

On the five crossings to be opened in the area, the activist added that “There is no action on the ground, while the Negotiating Committee said that it spoke with the Russian side in this regard.”

As for the monitoring points and the rest of the terms in the agreement, al-Jada’an stressed that “They do not exist and initiatives are still looming on the horizon, while the agreed upon humanitarian aid has not yet entered. [The aid] was limited to some foodstuff distributed by Russians at the Al-Dar al-Kabirah crossing at the beginning of the negotiations.”

According to the activist, the people in northern Homs know that “This procrastination is a soothing injection until the Russians finish their operations in other areas, and then come back to continue [their military operations here].”

Kamal Bakkar thinks that the truce north of Homs is useful to the Syrian regime, which will exploit it to transfer a significant number of its remaining forces to the hot fronts reassured that the fronts behind its back are calm.

He explained that “The truce in Homs’ northern countryside will not take place except with the consent of the military factions to open the Homs-Hama highway, a thing which the people of Homs’ countryside completely refuse.”

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