Saudis, Qataris Behind Boycott of Syrian Militants

A fighter carries a weapon inside a damaged building on the fourth day of the truce near Douma in the eastern Damascus suburb on Jan. 2.
A fighter carries a weapon inside a damaged building on the fourth day of the truce near Douma in the eastern Damascus suburb on Jan. 2.

Several Syrian opposition groups have reportedly threatened to boycott the upcoming political settlement talks in Kazakhstan due to alleged ceasefire violations.

Middle East expert Danny Makki explained to Sputnik that those militants are backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have been sidelined from the Turkish-Russian agreement.

Several Syrian opposition groups have signed a statement declaring the boycott of the upcoming political settlement talks in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Their statement was widely reported by the western media on Tuesday, elaborating that 10 militant factions said they were suspending discussions regarding the Astana conference or the ceasefire “until it is fully implemented”.

The groups cited alleged “major and frequent violations” in the militant-held areas of Wadi Barada and Eastern Ghouta outside the Syrian capital Damascus.

Radio Sputnik discussed the issue with London-based media analyst and researcher who specializes in Middle East security, Danny Makki.

First of all, he said, it goes against the UN resolution that was unanimously voted on by all countries on Saturday.

On December 31, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a Russian-Turkish resolution on a ceasefire regime in Syria, as well as on holding political talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups in Astana in January 2017.

A day earlier, on Friday, a nationwide ceasefire between Syrian government troops and several opposition factions came into force. Russia and Turkey serve as guarantors of the deal that paves the way for negotiations between the warring parties.

Makki noted that initially, Wadi Barada was not part of the ceasefire agreement. Hence, for those militant groups to say that it was a violation of a ceasefire by the government is incorrect.

“Most of the militant groups who have issued the statement are on the side of terrorists,” he said.

“Conspicuously, there are some problems from backers such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia who have been sidelined from the Turkish-Russian agreement and perhaps are seeking some sort of revenge by pressuring these groups to pull out of this agreement.”

In addition to this, he said, the statement is aimed at derailing the process started by one of the opposition’s significant backers, Turkey.

“It remains to be seen what Turkey makes out of all of this because this have been seen as a diplomatic victory for the Turks in some sense,” he told Sputnik.

  Ceasefire Participants

The initial agreement was signed by about eight major groups that represent around over 20 or 30 small groups, the expert said.

All in all, there are hundreds of different militant groups in Syria, at least two-thirds of whom have signed this agreement, totaling 60,000 fighters.

These groups, which recently stated that they would not continue the process, constitute around 20,000 or 30,000 soldiers on the ground.

Most of these groups are funded either by Saudi Arabia or have Persian Gulf sponsors in terms of finance and support.

The Turkish-backed groups did not pull out of the agreement, all of whom have stayed in.

“You have so many warring groups and so many different backers that it is almost impossible to get all of them to agree on one thing at one particular moment of time,” Makki said.

“Most of the groups around Damascus, who have rejected the ceasefire, claim feeling threatened by the recent Syrian Army offensive around Wadi Barada. But Wadi Barada was never part of the ceasefire plan. It is [the Persian] Gulf states’ attempt to undermine Russian and Turkish agreement.”

The expert elaborated that these groups, who are mainly located in Damascus and have a huge presence in the north, are relatively influential.

  Changing Dynamics

However, they do not pose a significant threat to the overall ceasefire plan because the plan has been supported by Turkey’s reputation.

Makki pointed out that many of the groups and movements who have signed up to this agreement are currently fighting with the Turks around the city of Al-Bab against IS.

“Turks have essentially put their necks out on the line and attempted to say to the [Persian] Gulf countries: You’ve been supporting the militants for a long time but because we have a border with Syria, because we have better and closer credibility among the Syrian militants, we can force them into a ceasefire,” he said.

“You can clearly see a fact that Saudi Arabia is not even involved in this peace agreement, which would create a problem to most of the militant groups being funded by Saudi Arabia.”

Makki noted that the current developments in Syria only prove how significant Russian presence in the region has been and how significantly it has changed the internal dynamics of the Syrian crisis.

“Who would have thought in 2015 when the government was facing almost breaking point that the Russians would be celebrating at least a moral victory in an international struggle against the US in Aleppo after signing a peace agreement for the militants with Turkey, one of the main countries and backers of the opposition,” he concluded.


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