Friday, 26 February 2016

What Do Syrian Rebels Think of the Cease-Fire?

 'Abu Mohammad Aziz, the nom de guerre of a commander in the Levant Front, which is fighting in northern Aleppo province, doesn’t believe Russia or the regime will adhere to the truce, which is intended to redirect armed efforts at jihadi forces.

 “The Russians will continue to bomb us and claim they are hitting ISIS or Nusra. The regime can’t be trusted.

  Zachariah al-Sun, 36, sits next to his 23-year-old niece outside the Kilis hospital. Sun fled his northern Aleppo village before the regime advance at the beginning of February and made it to Turkey as a refugee before the gates slammed shut. A Russian bomb killed his brother, while his niece, who declines to give her name, narrowly escaped the bombardment and a YPG ground advance. She was able to come to Turkey for medical attention because she is pregnant and needed an ultrasound; most of her family members are stranded in camps on the Syrian side of the border.

 “There was bombing everywhere. Hospitals were destroyed and there was no food,” says Sun’s niece. “We tried to stay at first, but the bombing was too intense and everything was destroyed,” she adds, depicting scenes of panic as she and her neighbors fled. “We feel Aleppo is lost.”

 Zachariah al-Sun blames the Assad regime for his family’s dire situation. “With the will of god we will continue to resist, but who knows, with the current situation,” he says cautiously.

 Sun’s nephew, 26-year-old Mohammed al-Sun, the son of Zachariah’s dead brother, lies riddled with bullet holes in a hospital bed upstairs. Mohammed, a fighter with the Saudi-supported Fatah brigade, was shot in the back three times during an ambush by US-armed YPG forces amid intense Russian bombardment near the town of Deir Rafat in northern Aleppo.

 In a parking lot on the Turkish side of the border fence, a handful of FSA fighters and refugees trying to reach besieged family members wait to return to Syria. Among them is a 30-year-old machine gunner with the CIA-vetted and -backed al-Mutasem Billah brigades who calls himself Abu Mohandeseen. He whips out his phone and starts pointing to the different colors on a graphic of a battlefield map to show how his comrades are surrounded.

 To the west (highlighted in yellow), he says they face attack by advancing US-armed YPG forces. To the east (shaded black), they are clashing with ISIS. To the south (highlighted in red), they are under attack by regime forces. All the while, he says, there is constant Russian bombardment from the air.

 “The government, ISIS, and the [YPG] are all trying to finish us off before they start fighting each other,” contends the stocky militant. Abu Mohandeseen describes how his unit, which received US training and weapons primarily to fight ISIS, now finds that it is locked in a losing battle with both other US partners and Assad’s forces.

 Abu Mohandeseen also says that he has seen Russian ground troops in Syria and heard them on the radio. Although Russia is officially only engaged in an air-assault campaign, in January, Hezbollah commanders said that Russian special forces had boots on the ground in the northwestern province of Latakia.'

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