Bitter foes weigh up chance of peace, but prepare for war to rage on in Syria

Martin Chulov reports: Inside east Aleppo, talk of ways to bring a lasting peace were long ago discounted. On the eve of the latest deal being implemented by Russia and the US to bring calm to a five-year war, those trying to oust Bashar al-Assad in the opposition half of the city are now more sceptical than ever.

The pact, announced by Moscow and Washington late on Friday, aims to ease in a ceasefire, mainly by phasing out attacks by Russian and Syrian jets, which have pounded opposition areas for most of the past year, and allowing in desperately needed aid supplies.

While a potential end to the bombings was welcomed by militants inside the city, distrust has remained about the caveats – particularly an insistence that al-Qaida-linked elements be disentangled from more mainstream rebels – for much of the deal to kick in.

“Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [the renamed jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra] are among us, that is true,” said Dawood Mahmudi, a senior rebel based in east Aleppo. “They are here because no one else is. They have kept the city open and have reopened it when it was besieged. Where were Russia and the US then? I’ll tell you where, the US was nowhere, and Russia was bombing us. And now they say ‘trust us’.” [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: Rebel factions in Syria expressed deep reservations on Sunday about the terms of a U.S.-Russian deal that seeks to restart the peace process for the war-torn country, with the leader of at least one U.S.-backed rebel faction publicly calling the offer a “trap.”

The second in command of the powerful, ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group condemned the superpower agreement as an effort to secure President Bashar Assad’s government and drive rebel factions apart.

“A rebellious people who have fought and suffered for six years cannot accept half-solutions,” said Ali al-Omar in a video statement.

But the commander and other rebel leaders stopped short of fully rejecting the agreement’s interim cease-fire, which is slated to come into effect in stages beginning on Monday at sunset. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: Mostafa Mahamed, the director of foreign media relations for Syria Conquest Front [previously known as Nusra Front], declared in written responses to questions that his group had the support of “numerous groups on the ground” despite the ultimatum to other rebels to split from his bloc.

“We expect a united stance of all major players in Syria against this deal. The sincere groups in Syria will never be tools used by external governments that fight their proxy wars,” Mr. Mahamed said. “Make no mistake about it. The U.S. and Russia have agreed to end this revolution.”

He slammed members of the political opposition who accepted the U.S.-Russian agreement to halt fighting as disingenuous representatives of the revolution who occupy “five star hotels and conference halls abroad.” [Continue reading…]

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