Friday, 24 February 2017
Syrians to opposition: 'No concessions over our blood'
'Om Abd al-Rahman* holds little hope for the future of Syria. She is not optimistic, she says.
After losing her husband in the war and having to leave her home in Aleppo for Idlib, the 40-year-old mother of three is currently the sole breadwinner in her family. Every day she makes the dangerous 45km trip from her home in Idilb to her office at a charity organisation in western Aleppo province through areas where kidnappings and killings are rampant, leaving behind her children anxious and fearing for her safety.
As she struggles with yet another day of insecurity, fear and despair, some 3000km west of Idlib, diplomats prepare to shuttle between the two five-star hotels hosting the Syrian opposition and the regime delegation in Geneva. For many Syrians like Om Abd Al-Rahman, who live in opposition-held areas, the talks, scheduled to start on Thursday, will not change much.
"I no longer have big hopes that any negotiations will end the war," she says. "The statements of the regime and the weakness, fragmentation and infighting of the opposition killed the hope. All this does not bode well that there will be a solution in the interest of the civilians."
After every round of negotiations, the regime mobilises its forces to take over more territory from the opposition, which results in more suffering for the civilians, says Om Abd al-Rahman.
Abu Ali*, a 23-year-old resident of the southern Syrian city of Deraa, says that he almost died in a recent bombing of his city. Fighter jets struck close to his house and completely destroyed his motorcycle.
The Russian air strikes on the city and the surrounding areas, that were carried out after a ground offensive by the opposition forces, hit civilian areas and damaged six hospitals.
Abu Ali, whose family had to go to a refugee camp to seek safety from the persisting air strikes, says he does not see much point in the negotiations. "We always offer concessions and it is the regime that breaches the truces. The opposition factions always observe them, but the regime never does," he told Al Jazeera.
Nadia Mohamed, 43, who had to leave her home in Latakia countryside and flee to the city of Jisr al-Shughur, near the Syrian-Turkish border, concurs. She says the bombardment of the surrounding area has continued, and while air strikes near the refugee camps at the border decreased after the Astana talks in January, however, they persisted over nearby villages.
Nadia and her husband have to rely on the earnings of their two sons to survive. Although the $150 they earn each month is not enough to sustain the seven members of their family, she is grateful with what she has; others have no one to provide for them, she says.
"These Geneva negotiations will be like Geneva 1, 2 and 3. The Syrians did not get anything from them except more killing, more of Bashar [al-Assad's] crimes and Russian intervention," she says. "The regime continues bombing. It hasn't even observed the Astana ceasefire, much less apply [what is to be agreed at] Geneva."
Nadia believes that there is no reason for the opposition to participate in negotiations unless there are international guarantees that Assad will be removed and the situation of the Syrian people improved.
"To the opposition I would like to say, remember the prisoners and the refugees in the camps and do not make concessions over our blood," says Mohamed.
Some 100km away from her, in Atma camp, Abu Adi* is similarly pessimistic about the Geneva talks.
"We as people who have been living in camps for the past five years, we haven't really benefited from the negotiations," he says. "Whether the opposition participates or not, it will be the same result."
The 34-year-old father of two says he is having trouble feeding his family with the $150 he earns from working in cement production and wood cutting. Before the war, he says he had a small business, which provided well for his family; now he worries about the security and education of his children and the terrible conditions they endure in the overcrowded camp.
In his opinion, the opposition has to work to improve the conditions of its people in terms of food, medical care of the injured and social provision for the families of the martyrs. It should also try to set up safe zones to protect the internally displaced.
Osama al-Koshak, a Syrian researcher and activist, explains that these negative attitudes towards the Geneva talks with Syrians' lack of faith in political negotiations. "People would say, politics will not get us victory. The Palestinian Question was lost because of politics," he says.
According to him, it is a widely held view that negotiations can only be effective if the opposition makes significant gains on the ground which it would then leverage on the negotiating table.
Al-Koshak pointed out that today the opposition would be in a much stronger position if - before the Astana talks - the armed groups had undertaken offensives against the regime to put pressure on it. They had the necessary force but divisions and disagreements made it difficult for them to carry this out, he says.
After the fall of Aleppo and the declaration of a ceasefire that excluded a number of extreme armed groups, infighting erupted in Northern Syria resulting in significant gains for Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front), which announced the formation of coalition Hay'et Tahrir al-Sham along with a number of other armed factions. The infighting further weakened the armed opposition in the run-up to the Geneva talks.
"Until now, there is no military body which represents the armed factions and there is no strong political body which really represents political power. This is our main problem as Syrians: There is no one to represent us who we trust," al-Koshak concluded.'
*The names have been changed upon the request of the interviewees.