Syria's warring parties share ire over jovial photos of local truce

BEIRUT Tue Feb 18, 2014 10:34am EST

Syrian civilians are seen in Babila town, southeast Damascus February 17, 2014, after a local ceasefire agreement was reached. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

Syrian civilians are seen in Babila town, southeast Damascus February 17, 2014, after a local ceasefire agreement was reached.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Pictures of rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad laughing and shaking hands after a local ceasefire have sparked outrage on both sides, shocked at the outpouring of goodwill after three years of fierce bloodletting.

The images came from a media trip organized by the Syrian government to the Damascus suburb of Babila, the latest in a series of districts to agree a truce that most opposition critics say works in Assad's favor.

Heavy fighting continues throughout most of Syria. The localized truces have been agreed mostly around Damascus and have ended prolonged government sieges on those rebel-held areas, many of which were waged for more than a year and caused severe hunger to the point of illness and death.

"I felt like I would have a stroke, looking at those pictures," said a local activist, called Mohammed, speaking on Skype from the nearby rebel-held district of Jobar, which has not yet agreed any form of ceasefire. "How can they forget how those forces have starved our people for over a year, how they bombed us mercilessly for months?"

Some rebels in the Damascus suburbs said the pictures were staged, arguing the rebel gunmen were actually pro-Assad militias dressed to look like opposition fighters. Others said the pictures were real.

Reuters photographers were among the journalists at the Babila media tour, but there was no way to confirm the identity of those photographed.

Whether the scenes were genuine or faked, the photos - which show armed combatants from both sides chatting and relaxed - stood in stark contrast to the chilly atmosphere on display at the second round of "Geneva 2" peace talks last week. Diplomats failed to make any progress.

Rebels and Assad forces who agreed to the truces will now work joint checkpoints and patrols using the name of "Local Defence Committees."

Local ceasefires have been a goal of Assad's forces as a way to halt the fighting around the president's seat of power, the capital Damascus. The army sieges, which include near-daily bombardment, have halted rebel advances and cut off supply lines, but have been unable to dislodge the rebels.

"WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN"

Commentators on both sides were particularly incensed by an image of a female member of the pro-Assad paramilitary group, known as the National Defence Forces, smiling as she spoke to a rebel fighter. Posters on both pro-rebel and pro-Assad Facebook pages called the woman in the picture a "whore."

"Hey everyone, what is going on in this country? A soldier is kissing a terrorist and girls from the National Defence Forces are making eyes with the terrorists," said one post on a pro-Assad Facebook page. "The world has been turned upside down, the blood of our brothers and children and the honor of our women has been forgotten."

Syria's conflict began as popular street protests against four decades of Assad family rule but, after a violent security crackdown, transformed into a civil war that has killed more than 140,000 people and driven millions from their homes.

The government has commissioned "reconciliation committees" using local dignitaries from the Damascus suburbs to offer the truces, according to a local rebel spokesman, Bara Abdelrahman, speaking by Skype from the opposition-held suburb of Douma.

Neighboring Harasta is said to be the next target for the committees, he said. Rebels detained a group of representatives in Harasta this week, he said, after they met with civilians at a mosque to present a truce offer without fighters present.

"They told them to get the rebels to stop attacking the main highway and then they could get in food and medicine. And honestly, people are exhausted here and hungry, so they started to pressure the rebels and ask why not?" he said. "These committees were turning people against us."

The deals in each town are broadly the same. They require rebels to raise the government flag and get the siege lifted in return. Most allow rebels to maintain control inside the districts if they give up heavy weaponry.

Even those in support of local ceasefires, however, say such truces are not a sign that local fighters on the ground actually have a better rapport than jet-setting diplomats.

"The regime here was tired of endless strikes with no result and the people tired of being hungry. Of course some areas were going to accept. But the way they got these agreements was through starvation," said one activist, who asked not to be named. "This isn't actually a model of reconciliation, whatever the pictures show."

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Comments (4)
sabrefencer wrote:
why should they not celebrate for having a few hours off from killing , maiming, hating themselves?…if this halt, lasted for months, they all just stay in their positions, no one moves an inch to gain ground…or fires a shot…till a deal hammers out, just something, to stop all the killing…why would anyone be upset, except those Muslim sociopaths, sent in from the outside, to do nothing but kill in the name of their mullahs and Iran’s agenda.

Feb 18, 2014 10:58am EST  --  Report as abuse
RobertFrost wrote:
This article somehow confirms that the general feeling of Western commentators, which must be aligned with their editors and the line of the Official Information System, is for a continued war and destruction in Syria.

The National Defence Committees are doing exactly what is needed to bring peace to that bereaved land, irrespective of who is the ultimate winner of there effort. The fact that they managed, with Russia’s help, and not the UN, to do so in Homs, and before that in many areas in the South, suggests that there is hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict – again, irrespective who benefits from a stop to killing, robberies, destruction and mayhem.

In the light of what happened in the last three years, there is no way the Syrian regime could go back to its previous practices. By the same token, it is ludicrous to think that the government could be displaced by armed groups mostly standing against democracy and freedom, and entirely financed by foreign interventionists, including the Saudi and Qatar regimes, who do not even have a parliament, ruled by the big Sheikh’s edicts and dictats and wouldn’t recognize democracy even if it bit them.

Where is the concern about human beings when it does not agree with the editorial line of an Official Information System?

Feb 18, 2014 11:04am EST  --  Report as abuse
inMyView wrote:
Even after brutal armed confrontations people might come to reason (in Syria). I wonder if there is a moral in it for me (in Israel).

Feb 18, 2014 11:32am EST  --  Report as abuse
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