Crossing the Battleline in Damascus

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



More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South