Syrian Rebels Say a Ceasefire Is 'Not Realistic, Objective, or Logical'

Plans for the world power-brokered ceasefire in Syria next week appear to be on shaky ground, amid little indication that rebel groups plan to adhere to it and low confidence from the international community.
February 13, 2016, 5:20pm
An unexploded cluster bomblet is seen along a street after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held al Ghariyah in Deraa province, Syria. (Photo by Alaa Faqir/Reuters)

Plans for the world power-brokered cessation of hostilities in Syria next week appear to be on shaky ground, amid little indication that rebel groups plan to adhere to it, low confidence from the international community, Saudi Arabia preparing to put boots on the ground, and no suggestion that Syrian president Bashar al Assad is willing to step down.

The cessation of hostilities deal was a compromise because not all warring factions agreed to the terms of a ceasefire. A cessation of hostilities places a temporary pause on the conflict so that humanitarian aid can reach civilians.

On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked to assess the odds that next week's ceasefire agreement would be met. Forty-nine percent, Lavrov responded. German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is only marginally more confident, and gave it a 51 percent chance.

Rebel groups have vowed to keep fighting, citing concern over Russian involvement and reiterating their end goal of ousting Assad from power. Spokespersons from different rebel factions expressed their doubts over the looming cessation deadline to the BBC in separate interviews. Riad Hijab, a coordinator of Syria's principal opposition bloc said that a cessation of hostilities was "not realistic, objective, or logical." Faylaq al-Sham, a coalition of seven northern insurgency groups, said they would not drop their weapons until Assad was removed.

Others raised suspicion over Putin's broader intentions in Syria and suggested that Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war — whose warplanes have reportedly killed over 1,000 civilians — had antagonized the conflict.

A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army said, "We remain skeptical all the time about the Russians."

**Related: **Supposed Syrian Ceasefire Viewed Skeptically by War-Weary Aid Workers

The powerful and conservative insurgent group Ahrar al Sham said they would not drop their weapons until government shelling stopped, civilians' safety was ensured, and prisoners released.

In a recent interview with AFP, Assad was asked how many years he needed to restore peace to Syria. "The question is: for how many years will Turkey and Saudi Arabia continue to support terrorism" Assad said. "That is the question. And when will the West put pressure on these countries to stop supporting terrorism." Assad's is referring to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the US-led coalition's strategy to take down the Islamic State (IS), which has involved arming rebel groups.

The US government has said Assad was "deluded" if he thought he could solve the conflict with military force.

If Assad's vision of peace hinges on Saudi and Turkish forces backing off, that isn't looking so likely. While the cessation plan was being brokered, Saudi Arabia has been prepping for a possible ground invasion by stationing troops and fighter jets on a Turkish military base near the Syrian border. Assad believes that Turkish president Recep Erdogan has ulterior, ideological motives in Syria. "He believes that he has an Islamist mission in our region" said Assad. "The same applies to Saudi Arabia. The collapse of the terrorists in Syria is a collapse of their policies."

Assad also expressed his clear disdain for the UN, which might have some bearing on whether he'd abide by a UN-brokered Syrian peace resolution.

"These organizations are now basically controlled by Western powers" Assad said, referring to the UN. "That's why most of their reports are politicized and serve a political agenda."

At the Munich security conference on Saturday, Russia's Assad-allied strategy in Syria drew sharp criticism from international officials, revealing divisions and disagreements on the world stage outside of Syrian borders. Russia rejected French and American allegations that it was indiscriminately bombing civilians and "legitimate opposite groups."

**Related: **US and Russia Agree to a 'Cessation of Hostilities' and More Humanitarian Aid in Syria

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia must change its strategy and targets ahead of the ceasefire. "Free-fall bombs are being used, which are not precise" said Kerry. "We all know civilians are being killed."

Kerry, in his remarks at the Munich conference, recognized that a cessation of hostilities or eventual ceasefire wasn't going to come easily. "We're not approaching this with some sense of pie-in-the-sky hope," he said.

Assad's forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, have been making significant ground advances in the last week. On Saturday, Syrian State TV trumpeted that Assad's forces had successfully retaken a village which overlooks insurgent-held towns surrounding Aleppo, the civil war's front line, as part of their ongoing strategy to encircle and reclaim the key northern city.

The war is now in its fifth year and has displaced almost half of the population. The number of casualties incurred isn't clear. The UN puts the figure at 250,000, while the Syrian Center for Policy Research estimates that 470,000 Syrians have died over the course of the conflict.

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen

Watch the VICE News documentary **Jihadists vs. the Assad Regime: Syria's Rebel Advance here:**