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Syrian Militants Send Mixed Signals on Planned Truce

The United States warned insurgents on Saturday they would face “dire consequences” if they cooperated with Jabhet Fateh al-Sham, which fought alongside a range of militant groups during intense battles in recent weeks in southern Aleppo
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad walk at a military complex, after they recaptured areas in southwestern Aleppo that militants had seized last month, in this handout picture provided by SANA on Sept. 5.Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad walk at a military complex, after they recaptured areas in southwestern Aleppo that militants had seized last month, in this handout picture provided by SANA on Sept. 5.

Government troops and insurgents fought in several parts of Syria on Sunday, apparently seeking to strengthen their positions on the eve of a ceasefire that Free Syrian Army militants said they would observe but with major reservations.

The Free Syrian Army groups wrote to the United States on Sunday about the deal it agreed on with Russia, saying that while they would “cooperate positively” with the ceasefire, they were concerned it would benefit the government, Reuters reported.

Although the letter did not explicitly say the groups would abide by the ceasefire, two militants who confirmed its text to Reuters said they would respect the ceasefire when it comes into force on Monday evening.

But according to the letter, the groups are worried by the absence of enforcement mechanisms, a lack of provision for besieged areas and clauses letting army jets fly for up to nine days after the deal comes into effect.

The hardline militant group Ahrar al-Sham issued a statement late on Sunday attacking the ceasefire deal, but stopping short of explicitly saying it would not abide by its terms.

A war monitor reported clashes around Aleppo and Damascus, but pushes by the government in the mountainous northwest and militants in the southwest indicated an effort to improve their positions before fighting is due to stop on Monday.

Syria’s five-year civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced 11 million—half the country’s prewar population—causing a refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe and inspiring militant attacks around the world.

Underscoring the war’s global impact, President Bashar al-Assad is backed by Russia’s air force, Iranian advisors and Shia militias from Iraq and Lebanon, while the militants are supported by the United States, Turkey and Persian Gulf Arab states.

Previous peace agreements crumbled within weeks.

Syria’s government has not issued an official comment on the truce, but Syrian state media on Saturday quoted what it called private sources as saying the government had given its approval. Iran welcomed the deal on Sunday.

  IS Excluded

The ceasefire will not apply to terrorist groups IS or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, known as the Nusra Front.

The militant groups writing to the United States said the exclusion of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which operates only inside Syria, while including militias that operate across international borders showed a double standard.

They added in their letter that its exclusion from the ceasefire would be used by Russia as a pretext to bomb other militant groups, citing their experience of a failed cessation of hostilities earlier this year.

The Syrian air force bombed IS targets near Palmyra, state television reported on Sunday, while militants clashed with the group northeast of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor said.

The United States warned insurgents on Saturday they would face “dire consequences” if they cooperated with Jabhet Fateh al-Sham, which fought alongside a range of mainstream and militant groups during intense battles in recent weeks in southern Aleppo.

Ahrar al-Sham, one of the largest militant groups among the militants, which has fought alongside Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, criticized the deal in a videotaped speech celebrating Islam’s Eid al-Adha festival, which falls on Monday, without rejecting it outright.

It said the deal failed to meet the minimum goals of the movement and would increase the suffering of the Syrian people. It also attacked what it called the “singling out” of particular groups, apparently a reference to the exclusion of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

Illustrating how widely insurgents work with the former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Ahrar al-Sham was one of several militant groups to announce the launch of an offensive in the southwest in coordination with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham on Saturday.

Insurgents posted footage said to show battles on that front on Sunday which Reuters could not verify.

In Latakia Province, violent clashes continued on Sunday two days after the army and its allies launched an offensive around several villages near the main coast road to Aleppo using heavy artillery fire and dozens of airstrikes, the Observatory said.

Financialtribune.com