Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can UN Envoy Sell Cease-Fire to Syria Rebels? Not So Fast

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can UN Envoy Sell Cease-Fire to Syria Rebels? Not So Fast

Article excerpt

UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura's bid to establish a "freeze zone" in the embattled northern Syria city of Aleppo came face to face this week with one of its main obstacles: fractured and pressured rebel leaders who fear that a cease-fire under current conditions would constitute surrender.

Mr. de Mistura was in the southern Turkish city of Gazientep on Monday and Tuesday to persuade the rebel leaders to consider the freeze, which he hopes will alleviate Syria's humanitarian crisis and lay the groundwork for a political process.

The military situation in Aleppo is increasingly precarious for rebels who are under pressure from the regime on one front and the Islamic Sate group on the other. While a "freeze" could offer a reprieve as winter sets in, many opposition commanders and activists view the initiative with skepticism.

"There were a lot of differences in opinion, so we will need further discussions and a concrete action plan that we can study with all the factions in order for us to present our suggestions," says Qais al-Sheikh, president of the Revolutionary Command Council, a new coalition grouping Islamist and moderate groups.

Many worry that a limited cease-fire in Aleppo would amount to little more than surrender - the final nail in the coffin of a popular uprising that started nearly four years ago and degenerated into a civil war fanned by regional powers and rendered intractable by the influx of foreign fighters.

If Aleppo falls, this would mark a strategic defeat not only for Syria's fractious rebels but also for the US-led coalition, which needs allies on the ground to counter the influence of the so- called Islamic State, an extremist group that has seized large chunks of Syria and Iraq.

Envoy saw discussions as 'encouraging'De Mistura's spokeswoman, Juliette Touma, said Tuesday the envoy held "encouraging discussions" in Gaziantep with representatives of the different opposition military and political factions in Aleppo. A delegation led by de Mistura's deputy will head to Damascus this week to provide further information to the Syrian government on how to make the "freeze" agreement operational in the country's second city.

"Right now we are working on the details with the parties of the conflict and mediating an agreement," says Ms.Touma.

The timing of the visit was not conducive toward building trust as it coincided with the regime's launch of a new military operation - dubbed "Operation Rainbow" - to lock its siege on Aleppo.

"This goes to show there are no guarantees with de Mistura," says a representative of the Nureddin Zinki battalion in Aleppo, a US- backed moderate group.

"This will divide the opposition, one part will agree to engage in talks, and the other will go toward extremism," he adds. "How can there be an initiative when there is nothing on paper? Once there is a document in front of us we can discuss it. …

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