Syrian rebels Jaish al-Islam refute ceasefire after regime violation

Syrian rebels Jaish al-Islam refute ceasefire after regime violation
Jaish al-Islam denied on Friday reports that it agreed to a truce with Russia stating that the rebel group continues to be targeted by the Syrian regime on the ground.
3 min read
04 March, 2016
Fighting between Jaish al-Islam and the Syrian regime did not stop despite the truce [Getty]
A Syrian rebel group based largely in the Damascus suburbs have denied signing up to a ceasefire agreement with the Syrian regime, as one of its strongholds was bombed by war planes on Friday.

There were earlier reports that Jaish al-Islam had agreed to cease military operations in the capital Damascus,
part of a truce brokered by US and Russia, but the armed group said they would fight on. 

A ceasefire came into effect on Saturday in areas outside Islamic State group and al-Nusra Front control, which includes the Damascus suburbs, and has lasted until now despite reports of small scale regime attacks.

On Friday, unknown war planes bombed Douma, in the Damascus suburbs, a stronghold of the group.

"Jaish al-Islam refutes the news disseminated by [Russia] which talks about inclusion of our forces in al-Ruhaybah town in east Qalamoun in the ceasefire agreement," the statement said.

Russia's defence ministry announced earlier on Friday that an agreement to a ceasefire with the commander of the Jaish al-Islam and five "leaders of the moderate opposition groups" had been agreed.

On Thursday, Russia's centre of reconciliation between warring parties in Syria said that leaders of Jaish al-Islam "made a decision to join the ceasefire agreement".

The group have also been part of negotiations between the opposition and regime - through international parties - to find an end fighting in Syria.

Jaish al-Islam control large areas of the rural belt surrounding Damascus, which has been heavily bombed throughout the six-year war.

They are one of the largest and best-peforming rebel outfits against military units loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Our confrontation with the Assad gangs did not stop, whether in the Ghouta, in Homs, or in Aleppo, and as far as we are concerned, the war effectively did not stop on the ground in light of these violations," the group said.

The rebel group was a key member of the opposition council that engaged in the UN-backed ceasefire talks in Geneva earlier this year.

Since a cessation of hostilities came into effect on Saturday, Jaish al-Islam's vital frontline posts in al-Maraji - near Damascus - have been compromised by regime forces.
Mohamad Alloush accuses the Syrian regime of violations despite the truce agreement [Getty]

"The regime has been launching fierce attacks on the area for more than four months," the rebel group said.

"We were surprised that after the declaration of the truce by the international community that this attack continue and the Assad forces took new positions in the area." 

Amid international relief about the ceasefire agreement, Assad's forces are said to have made several attempts to seize ground in opposition-held territories, he group said. 

"[They have] already taken areas since the truce came into effect over the weekend," he added.

Head of the group's political office Mohammed Alloush, who was also chief negotiator for the Syrian opposition during talks in Geneva with the regime, asserted these claims.

"There are big violations by the regime and occupation of new areas, the use of all types of weapons," Alloush told Reuters, "particularly planes and barrel bombs in some areas and mobilisations to occupy very important strategic areas."

Dozens of ceasefire breaches have been reported over the past five days since a truce between Damascus and rebels was announced, but they have been limited in scale and almost clandestine.

No large-scale offensives or mass air raids have been reported since Saturday, but on Wednesday regime and Russian bombing, shelling and napalm attacks claimed the lives of 13 civilians.

But these figures are marketedly down on usual figures in the war which has seen close to 470,000 dead and half the population lose their homes due to bombing and fighting. 

A ceasefire came into effect on 27 February, and is part of increased efforts by world leaders to try and secure a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

It comes amid Western fears about the growing strength of extremist groups such as IS in Syria and the refugee crisis in Europe triggered by the war. 

Many, however, remain skeptical about how long the current cessation of violence will last, due to the persisent military violations by the Assad regime.