As part of their response to [new UN peace envoy to Syria] Staffan de Mistura’s proposal to "freeze" the conflict in Aleppo, Syrian officials yesterday called on the United Nations envoy for Syria to assess the government’s track record in implementing successful settlements and reconciliations in Syrian areas, particularly Homs.
Damascus believes that ambiguity surrounds the term "freeze the conflict" in Aleppo and that the implementation is therefore impossible in practical terms. In addition, it forces both sides to effectively acknowledge the legitimacy of the other party and possibly jointly combat their common enemy, the Islamic State [IS] ... . This group, the UN envoy has previously warned, might be preparing to target the city in the near future.
In a serious development, five engineers specializing in nuclear research at the center of Scientific Research in Barzeh, north of Damascus, were killed when the bus they were traveling in was targeted by a hail of gunfire.
There were also developments in Daraa province (south of Damascus) where armed Islamic factions, headed by Jabhat al-Nusra, succeeded in taking full control of the city of Nawa after blocking the road leading there from Al-Shaykh Maskin (north Daraa). Syrian state television reported this, saying, “Armed forces have been redeployed and repositioned in the Daraa countryside of Nawa in preparation for future combat operations there.”
De Mistura is expected to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before departing Damascus for Homs, in his first on-the-ground visit to Syria since assuming his post in July (2014).
Foreign Minister Walid Moallem met with de Mistura and the accompanying delegation for nearly two hours. Afterward, Syria’s official news agency, SANA, reported that the two sides discussed the results of de Mistura’s visits to various capitals and the proposals made before the [UN] Security Council in relation to the Syrian crisis. [This] included de Mistura’s initiative to freeze the conflict in Aleppo and the need to implement relevant Security Council anti-terrorism resolutions — particularly Resolution 2170, which provides for combating IS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other branches of al-Qaeda. [This is in parallel to] Resolution 2178. which emphasizes the need for all countries to prevent foreign terrorists from entering Syria and Iraq.
In addition, SANA noted “both parties’ satisfaction at the results of these constructive talks.” The meeting was attended by the director of the United Nations Information Center in Cairo, Khawla Mattar, whom knowledgeable sources have told As-Safir has been nominated to succeed Martin Grifith as head of the UN mission to Damascus.
According to information gathered by As-Safir, de Mistura seemed eager to meet with officials and dignitaries from Homs who took part in reconciliation efforts between the Syrian army and opposition factions. Homs is now the reference point, with many observers likening the current focus on Aleppo to that preceding the fall of the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs following the siege of the al-Hamidiyeh neighborhood, which resulted in the end of the armed militant presence in Homs, except in the al-Waar neighborhood, which also might be the object of further reconciliation efforts under UN auspices.
Syrian officials called on de Mistura and his team to review this experiment and its effect on the city and countryside. In this regard, Damascus wishes the UN envoy to reassess the information he likely gathered earlier as a result of his involvement in many other conflicts, leading to the conclusion that the international community’s many impressions concerning Syria lacked accuracy in portraying the reality on the ground. Among those misconceptions is the fact that life in the capital, radiating outward in various directions, has been unaffected by the daily tides of war.
Getting to know Homs up close and personal will facilitate preparations for the "Aleppo Plan," for the city might be visited at some point as well, if the UN envoy’s efforts find their way to fruition.
The relevant authorities will relay their experiences relating to the conflict in the country to de Mistura, as well as their perception of the necessities required to make reconciliation a success. Necessities that an official previously informed As-Safir of. They revolve around “agreed-upon measures to build trust, implement a mutual cease-fire and exchange hostages and prisoners and culminating in the surrender of heavy weaponry, as was the case in some other areas, or the surrender of all weapons, as occurred in other places. In parallel, political amnesty type agreements would be signed with combatants wishing to lay down their arms, while allowing those who do not wish to do so an opportunity to leave the battlefield and relocate elsewhere.” Yet, as the aforementioned official explained, such settlements are hindered by “external factors, as well as financial corruption and greed caused by war.” However, they are facilitated by “the army’s advance on the ground and the inevitability of the militants' defeat.” The latter being a point that the UN envoy prefers not to dwell upon, preferring instead to talk about “an agreement that does not imply that one party vanquished the other and which spares civilians humanitarian suffering,” similar to that which occurred in other areas, such as Old Homs.
As a result, Damascus is presenting Homs as an example of what can be accomplished in Aleppo, itself a subject of concern to the authorities, as a result of the interest expressed in its regard by countries such as France and Turkey. [This is] particularly in light of the advances on the battlefield surrounding the city, which is now militarily encircled, which two days ago led [Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal] al-Miqdad to announce that, “Aleppo would soon be rid of its terrorist desecration.”
De Mistura seems to agree with Turkey and France that Aleppo is a priority, even if his public rhetoric is different than theirs. For he believes that reaching an agreement “akin to a cease fire” between opposition forces and the Syrian army would strengthen the city against an IS onslaught, which the UN official considers to be a serious threat to the city.
For their part, Ankara and Paris want to place Aleppo under international jurisdiction, which would make the Syrian army a legitimate target for coalition strikes. On the other hand, Damascus gives its economic capital the same importance as its political one. While the prevailing opinion now is that Aleppo’s impending fate would constitute the most important symbolic shift in this conflict, with the regime trying to regain control of the city — a goal that Turkey is well aware of. For Ankara, as is widely known, has wagered on Aleppo since the onset of the war — for historical, economic, and ethnic reasons. Turkish officials were shocked when the majority Sunni populace there stood with the Syrian regime until opposition forces, most of whom were from the Idlib and Aleppo countryside, succeeded in taking control of approximately half the city in the summer of 2012.
In a development that threatens to ignite the region, columns of fighters from the Jamal Maarouf-led Syrian Revolutionaries Front entered neighborhoods of Aleppo following their ousting from Idlib’s countryside by Jabhat al-Nusra. These fighters took up positions in areas controlled by the Islamic Front, in what portends to be the transfer of the battles of the Idlib countryside to Aleppo’s interior.
In this regard, a battlefield source told As-Safir, “The forces of Jamal Maarouf, which took up positions in the Al-Maysar and Karm Houmad neighborhoods, have begun lobbing mortar rounds at Jabhat al-Nusra emplacements in al-Marjah and Bab al-Nairab.
Furthermore, in the last two days, Aleppo has been the scene of three different assassination operations perpetrated by unknown assailants against Islamic Front, Jabhat al-Nusra and Combined Combat Brigade commanders.
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