BEIRUT (Reuters) - Truces between the Syrian government and rebels only benefit Damascus, the leader of one of the largest insurgent groups in the war said in comments broadcast on Saturday, in which he also criticized a recent opposition meeting as a “conspiracy.”
The remarks by Abu Mohamad al-Golani, head of al Qaeda’s Syria wing Nusra Front, came after the implementation of a truce deal in Waer, the last insurgent-held area of Homs city, between the local government and insurgents.
“Truces are the first step to surrender and take place only in the interests of the regime,” he said in comments to reporters broadcast on opposition-affiliated Orient News TV.
It was not immediately clear when the recording took place. Golani’s face was digitally obscured.
Under the Waer deal, fighters who rejected the terms and some civilians were allowed leave and humanitarian aid was allowed in. Nusra Front fighters were among those who rejected the ceasefire and left.
A senior United Nations official told Reuters this week the Waer ceasefire was a good model to build on and could help promote a nationwide truce in the nearly five-year conflict that has killed 250,000 people. U.N. officials were present when fighters started to leave Waer last week.
Golani also criticized a Saudi-hosted Syrian opposition conference held last week as “a conspiracy”.
“Whoever went to the conference does not have the ability to implement things on the ground,” he said.
He also said that the Riyadh conference sought to keep the Syrian president in power.
“It wants to keep Bashar al-Assad and to incorporate the armed opposition into the regime forces and then wants this merged group to fight Nusra Front and Islamic State and then seeks to impose a truce on the Syrian people,” he said.
Nusra Front, a Sunni Muslim hardline group, was not invited to Riyadh and Golani said the group would not have wanted to attend anyway.
“(The conference) was not in the interests of the people of Syria, which is unacceptable,” he said.
“It is a big betrayal of these young people who sacrificed their blood and everyone who sacrificed their blood for the establishment of Islamic rule ... this is a conspiracy of many factions and we must work to thwart such plots.”
Golani gave a rare two-part interview to the Qatari-financed Al Jazeera channel earlier this year in what appeared to be an attempt by his group to cast itself to an Arab audience as a Syrian national movement.
“We took the path of jihad and we have to complete the process, and we are talking about liberating more than 80 percent of Syrian territory,” he said on Orient News.
In response to a question about the group’s relationship with al Qaeda, he said Nusra would not cooperate with the West and would stick to its principles.
“We will not give up our principles whether we are al Qaeda-linked or not al-Qaeda linked,” he said.
Reporting by Sylvia Westall in Beirut and Ali Abdelatti in Cairo; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky