Local truces take hold in Damascus countryside

Several areas in the Damascus countryside have opted for local truce arrangements with the regime.

al-monitor A damaged car lies among debris at one of the battlefronts in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Feb. 22, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Stringer.

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syria civil war, syria, islamic movement, damascus, civil war, bashar al-assad

Feb 24, 2014

In recent months, local arrangements in the Damascus countryside have cooled many hot spots and allowed for a return to normalcy that had been missing for months. The main reason behind these local arrangements is that both sides have realized that continuous clashes are causing fatal bleeding; while the state is able to constantly recover its combat capabilities, it wants to keep this power in reserve for more important battle areas. ... 

Efforts have focused on negotiations with Syrian — and not foreign — armed men, specifically the inhabitants of areas where the arrangements are taking place. Before, some involved in battle felt completely powerless and despaired of the possibility of changing the balance of power.

In recent days, many have had reservations about the arrangements, especially the government, which always prefers to make local arrangements to cool the conflict zones. An observer monitoring the local arrangements told As-Safir that “neither of the two parties can be certain about the future” in light of talk about the “next battle,” a “possible escalation” and the media claiming that the goal is Damascus, through its countryside and the Houran gate.

It seems that time is part of the daily battle to solidify fragile arrangements that are based on painful calculations for both sides. According to the source, an armed man told officers working on arrangements in Moadamiya that the last two years “have been exhausting. The armed men have totally failed on that front.” But that opinion is not the norm; the government, however, refuses to consider it an exception because many have supported the arrangement, with some opposition.

An official responsible for a local arrangement told As-Safir yesterday [Feb. 23] that the big bet is on two key matters related to how to address the possibility of the next escalation, which is a “real possibility,” he said. The first is “the army’s ability in the field,” and the second is “the general popular mood, represented by the civilians returning to their homes and quickly being contained by having the economy revived and the infrastructure fixed.” Those two elements are considered key in “fortifying the local environment against the possibility of new penetrations.”

The official acknowledged that some local arrangements need time and that “when the people feel that normality has returned, it will shift their mood toward supporting the state instead of fighting it.” He hopes that in the future, yesterday’s enemy will turn into an ally in the fight against foreign armed men, as happened in one of the regions of Homs and its countryside.

The source said that the arrangements’ main vulnerabilities are psychological because many have “lost family members or even their whole family,” referring to the deliberate killing of a soldier and his son in Qudsia, which has been in a truce for several months. The army command asked the armed men to hand over the accused and threatened to end the truce if they didn’t.

Regarding what’s expected or projected in the areas with local arrangements, the source said that the biggest problem is the presence of foreign extremists, who are “hampering the arrangements,” pointing to Harasta, Douma and Jobar, which are adjacent to each other, and to East Ghouta.

While assessing “the threat of a new assault from the southern front,” the source said that the area that can be penetrated is mainly in the east of Damascus because it is “under the control of forces that are entirely subject to the influence of regional countries, and implement their plans.”

The armed men: no reconciliation

Rejecting the local arrangements is perhaps one of the few things that the armed factions agree on. They consider those who agreed to the local arrangements to be “traitors to the blood of comrades in arms in the battles and on the fronts.” This is evident by the positions taken by the leaders of the armed groups against any truce, in Moadamiya, Barza, Babila, south of Damascus and in old Homs.

In this context, an opposition source in Damascus said that “truces are limited to the areas where they happened. That’s if the arrangements don’t collapse soon in case of a nearby battle.”

In a statement, the Islamic Front called on the people to inform its “security organs about anyone who is working on an arrangement in order to get rid of him.” This means torpedoing any possibility of calm in Harasta, al-Maliha and in East Ghouta because the Islamic Front is the most influential party around Ghouta.

On the other hand, a source in Daraya said that the situation there doesn’t suggest that an arrangement is imminent despite contacts between the parties to the conflict because the “local council” in town has insisted on certain conditions, such as not delivering heavy weapons, 100 tons of food aid, releasing detainees and stopping all military operations. Those are conditions that the regime doesn’t seem to have accepted, as evidenced by the continued daily shelling of the area.

In the south of Damascus, the situation is still unchanged. The truce has taken effect at the Yarmouk refugee camp, in Babila, and in Beit Sahm. Perhaps these areas have not been accused of treason by virtue of their harsh humanitarian situation.

In old Homs, the activists in the region say that the fighters refused any offer for a local arrangement. A few days ago, hundreds of them demonstrated and raised slogans attacking other cities and towns that have tended toward a truce for lack of a serious alternative to end the siege.

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