Investigative Journalism that is as
Radical as Reality Itself.

Crossing the Battleline in Damascus

by PATRICK COCKBURN

It is a surprising sight but one that may become more common in Damascus. Under the terms of a local ceasefire in the outlying district of Babbila in the south of the capital, armed members of the rebel Free Syrian Army mingle with Syrian soldiers and appear on friendly terms. The images show fighters from both sides talking and joking together.

Residents of the neighbourhood were said to be “overjoyed” by the truce. According to the AFP news agency, a group began chanting: “One, one, one! The Syrian people are one!”

The inside of the district, long under siege and bombarded by the army, will be policed by the FSA. Inhabitants who appear on the streets look overjoyed that for the moment the danger is over.

The terms of the truce in Babbila, assuming it is similar to that negotiated in other former rebel strongholds like Barzeh and Muadamiyat, provide for the FSA to hand over heavy weapons, but its fighters will stay in Babbila or can join the army. There will be a mixed FSA/army checkpoint at the entrance to Babbila and the army will not enter the district where the FSA will retain some of its positions in case the truce is broken. The government guarantees a rebuilding programme.

The main street is full of half-ruined buildings hit by artillery, but the government agrees to reconnect the water and electricity supply and reopen roads.

How far are these ceasefires and truces the shape of things to come? There are some aspects of these agreements that are very important, such as the release of prisoners in Barzeh, which late last month the local FSA commander told The Independent the government had not complied with. In most of these areas the majority of the people fled the shelling long ago and are likely to return to find their houses in ruins. It is not clear how far they will be compensated.

The government’s main strategy in dealing with rebel-held areas in Damascus has been to surround them with checkpoints, cut off water and electricity and bombard them. They have not, except when they are close to strategic roads, sent in ground troops to storm them; that would lead to casualties that government forces can ill-afford. Local people are weary and generally eager to see an end to the fighting.

The truces are taking places in the smaller and more isolated rebel enclaves. Bigger ones, like Eastern Ghouta, with a present population estimated by the UN to number 145,000, are more likely to continue to resist because the rebel fighters may be hardcore Islamists such as  al-Qa’ida-linked Jabhat  al-Nusra. Bigger areas are also more likely to have better supplies of food and are more difficult to isolate effectively.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

 

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

July 07, 2015
ANDRE VLTCHEK
In Ecuador, Fight for Mankind; In Greece, Fight for Greece!
Nile Bowie
Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Trails Behind China’s Development Vision
Binoy Kampmark
Warrior Economist: the Varoufakis Legacy
Shamus Cooke
Unions Must Act Now to Survive Supreme Court Deathblow
Dave Lindorff
The Greek People Have Voted ‘No!’ to Austerity and Economic Blackmail
Bruce K. Gagnon
Sanders Bullshit Meter Goes Off the Charts in Portland, Maine
Mateo Pimentel
The Pope’s Letter: Neoliberalism and Fukushima
Raouf Halaby
Beware Those Who Speak With Forked Tongues
Ron Jacobs
The Grateful Dead: The Ship of the Sun Bids Farewell
Jonathan Cook
Hasbara Industry: Why Israel’s Army of Spin-Doctors is Doomed to Defeat
Rev. William Alberts
Charleston: a Reality Check on Racism in America
Ellen Brown
A Franciscan Alternative: the People’s Pope and a People’s Bank?
Colin Todhunter
The Warped World of the GMO Lobbyist
John Wight
Who Will Join With Greece?
W. T. Whitney
Colombia’s Fensuagro Union is Revolutionary, Persecuted, and Undaunted
Mel Gurtov
Keep It in the Ground, Obama
July 06, 2015
MICHAEL HUDSON
Greece Rejects the Troika
Steve Hendricks
Will FIFA’s World Cup Sexism Ever Die?
Binoy Kampmark
Oxi in Greece
Gareth Porter
How US Spin on Access to Iranian Sites has Distorted the Issue
Peter Bach
ISIL and Ramadan in the Rag
Paul Craig Roberts
A Rebuke to EU-Imposed Austerity
Quincy Saul
The View from Mount Olympus
Robert Hunziker
Looking Inside Fukushima Prefecture
ADRIENNE PINE, RICHARD JOHNSTON, FIONA WILMOT, et al.
Seven Reasons to Scrap the USA’s $1 Billion Aid Package to Central America
Norman Pollack
Capitalism’s Self-Revealing Practices
Robert David Steele
The National Military Strategy: Dishonest Platitudes
Joan Roelofs
Whatever Happened to Eastern European Communism?
David Macaray
Could Justice Scalia Be the One to Rescue Labor?
Linn Washington Jr.
Storm Smashes Chris Christie’s Presidential Candidacy
Benjamin Willis
US and Cuba: What Remains to be Done?
Weekend Edition
July 3-5, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Pentagon’s “2015 Strategy” For Ruling the World
Jason Hirthler
Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg
Rob Urie
Greece and Global Class War
DIMITRIS KONSTANTAKOPOULOS
The Future of Greece Without Illusions
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Ecuador Fights for Survival – Against its Elites
David Rosen
White Skin Crisis
Jerry Lembcke
Nobody Spat on American GIs!
Stavros Mavroudeas
The Greek Referendum and the Tasks of the Left
Andrew Levine
Dumping on Dixie Again
Richard Pithouse
Charleston (It’s Not Over)
Arun Gupta
What Does It Mean to Call Dylann Roof a “Terrorist”?
Michael Welton
The Tragedy of Harper’s Canada
Brendan McQuade
The Right Wing Resurgence and the Problem of Terrorism
Chris Floyd
Heritage and Hokum in Rebel Banner Row