A senior member of the main Syrian opposition umbrella group said Saturday it hopes a new US-Russian agreement will be enforced in order to ease the suffering of civilians while an official with al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria vowed to retaliate throughout the world if the Americans and Russians target them.
Basma Kodmani, of the High Negotiations Committee, told The Associated Press that Russia should pressure President Bashar Assad’s government to abide by the agreement reached early Saturday.
“We are closely following this agreement and are waiting for its details to know the conditions of its implementation,” Kodmani said by telephone. She said mechanisms will be needed for the enforcement of the deal, including the “cessation of hostilities and the grounding (of) regime air forces.”
The United States and Russia announced a deal that foresees a nationwide cease-fire starting on Monday, followed a week later by an unexpected new military partnership targeting Islamic State and al-Qaida militants as well as the establishment of new limits on Assad’s forces.
The military deal would go into effect after both sides abide by the truce for a week and allow unimpeded humanitarian deliveries to besieged areas around the country.
Then, the US and Russia would begin intelligence sharing and targeting coordination, while Assad’s air and ground forces would no longer be permitted to target the al-Qaida-linked militant group of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front. They would be restricted to operations against the Islamic State.
A cease-fire reached by the two world powers earlier this year and put into effect in late February failed shortly afterward and was followed by months of violence the killed thousands.
Russia is a main backer of Assad’s government while the US has been supporting rebel groups trying to remove him from power. Syria’s conflict that is now in its sixth year has been ongoing despite several rounds of peace talks and international attempts to try end the conflict that killed a least a quarter million people and displaced half the country’s prewar population.
“Very big questions remain surrounding how exactly the US and Russia plan to determine areas where the opposition is sufficiently distant from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and where they are in fact too close and thus legitimate counter-terrorism targets,” said Charles Lister a Middle East Institute fellow who has written a book on jihadist dynamics in the Syria conflict.
Lister said there is no hiding the fact that mainstream opposition forces are extensively “marbled” or “coupled” with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham forces on front lines in southern, central and northwestern Syria. “This is not a reflection of ideological affinity as much as it is merely a military necessity,” he said.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, one of the most powerful factions in Syria, is part of the Fatah Army coalition that played an instrumental role in the fighting against Assad’s forces over the past year in northern Syria. A JFS official told the AP that if they are hit by Russians and Americans they will strike back “immediately.” “We have holy warriors who will burn the ground,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. He added that the group enjoys fighting the “coalition of the Crusaders” saying they have a large number of suicide attackers for the mission.