Syrian rebels welcome truce but with reservations

Both pro-Assad Iran and Hezbollah have also welcomed the US-Russia truce deal

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Syrian rebel factions will issue a statement welcoming the US-Russian deal for a ceasefire and aid deliveries in Syria but with reservations about the handling of violations by the government side, Reuters reported a rebel official as saying on Sunday.

Fierce fighting and air strikes continued in several parts of Syria a day before the humanitarian truce comes into effect, Syrian state television, rebel groups and a war monitor said.

“The factions welcome a ceasefire and welcome the incoming of aid, but have reservations about some points... what are the sanctions if the regime doesn’t abide by it?” said Zakaria Malahifji of the Aleppo-based rebel group Fastaqim.

Rebel groups believed they are treated unfairly by the deal and complain they were not consulted about it, Malahifji said. “A big part of the agreement serves the regime and doesn’t apply pressure on it and doesn’t serve the Syrian people,” he added.

An influential Syrian rebel group, the hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, on Sunday rejected the truce deal hours before it was due to begin.

A high-ranking member of the group, which works closely with former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, said in a statement on YouTube that the deal would only serve to “reinforce” the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and “increase the suffering” of civilians.

The ceasefire will not apply to militant extremist groups ISIS or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, previously known as the Nusra Front until it broke formal allegiance to al-Qaeda and changed its name.

Fateh al-Sham is a leading member of the Army of Conquest which groups its fighters with Islamist factions like Ahrar al-Sham in the most prominent anti-regime alliance.

The US on Saturday warned insurgents they would face “dire consequences” if they cooperate with Jabhet Fatah al-Sham, which fought alongside a range of mainstream and Islamist rebel groups during intense battles in recent weeks in southern Aleppo.

More air strikes hit Aleppo and Idlib province on Sunday after scores of people were killed in aerial bombardment on Saturday.

One strike in the town of Saraqeb hit a civil defense center where civilian rescuers are based, injuring several, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor of the war said.

Iran on Sunday welcomed the proposed ceasefire in Syria brokered by Russia and the United States, but said a monitoring system was needed to stop it being exploited by “terrorists.”

“Iran welcomes any establishment of a ceasefire in Syria,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said.

“The continuation and sustainability of a ceasefire relies on the creation of a comprehensive monitoring mechanism, in particular control of borders in order to stop the dispatch of fresh terrorists, as well as weapons and financial resources for the terrorists.”

Hezbollah has also announced its support for the truce, where the Lebanese Shiite movement has intervened militarily on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.

In a statement published late Saturday on its official media arm Al-Manar, the group’s unnamed “field commander for Syria operations" said Hezbollah "stands with the ceasefire.”

“Syria’s allies are completely committed to what the Syrian leadership, government, and security and political forces have decided in terms of the ceasefire,” the statement said.

But it pledged to pursue an “open, relentless war against the terrorists” ISIS and Fateh al-Sham Front.

Hezbollah has dispatched between 5,000 to 8,000 fighters to bolster the beleaguered Syrian army.
The group receives military and financial support from Iran, which threw its weight behind the truce deal on Sunday.

The new ceasefire, agreed as part of a landmark deal brokered by Russia and the US, is set to begin on Monday at sundown.

If the truce holds for one week, the US and Russia could start joint operations against ISIS and Fateh al-Sham Front militants.

(With Reuters, AFP)

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