FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail