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Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Syria rebels split over Russia-brokered surrender deals in south

AFP , Monday 2 Jul 2018
Displaced Syrians from the Daraa province fleeing shelling by pro-government forces wait in a makeshift camp to cross the Jordanian border, near the town of Nasib, southern Syria, on July 1, 2018. (Photo:AFP)
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Rebels in southern Syria were sharply divided Monday over whether to accept deals offered by government backer Russia that would see regime forces retake control of opposition towns.

After talks with Moscow, a wave of rebel areas in the south agreed in recent days to a government takeover in exchange for an end to nearly two weeks of ferocious air strikes and barrel bombing.

With those capitulations, regime forces have doubled their territorial control in the main southern province of Daraa to around 60 percent since operations began on June 19.

But other opposition bodies have rejected the deals.

In a statement Monday, the civilian half of the opposition's delegation to talks said they withdrew.

"We did not attend negotiations today. We were not party to any agreement and we never will be," said the statement, signed by negotiator Adnan Musalima.

It accused some actors of trying to secure personal interests through the agreements.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday there were "divisions among rebel groups" over whether to agree to the terms proposed by Russia.

Under the deal offered, rebels would hand over medium and heavy weapons and Syrian state institutions would resume work. Displaced families could return with guarantees by Russian military police.

Men who defected from Syria's armed forces or who did not complete their compulsory service could regularise their status with the regime within six months.

And regime forces would take over the Nasib border crossing with Jordan as well as deploy along the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said and activists said.

But many residents of opposition towns worry that a deal struck with Russia would only be violated later on, said Daraa activist Omar Hariri.

Since the terms did not include mass population transfers to other opposition-held zones, like in previous deals, residents feared regime forces would abduct or arrest its opponents in "acts of revenge," Hariri said.

"The situation is tough, and the rebels and all opposition entities in Daraa are facing very difficult choices. The noose is getting tighter and tighter," he told AFP.

Eight towns fell to regime control on Saturday and another five on Sunday, including the key town of Bosra al-Sham.

It was held by Shabab al-Sunna, one of the south's most powerful factions, and its willingness to agree to a deal stirred fierce criticism of its leader Ahmad Al-Awdeh.

Rebel supporters repeatedly referred to him as a "traitor" in posts on Twitter on Monday.

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