The next few hours will be fateful for the rebel groups and civilians in the northern Homs countryside, after negotiations with the Russians arrived at two options, the sweetest of which is bitter according to residents and fighters – either surrender their weapons and accept Russia’s conditions, or face a major military operation.
A source close to the talks in the northern Homs countryside told Alsouria Net that the Russians had set a deadline of 12:00 Damascus time on Thursday to accept the conditions, the most prominent of which is to hand over heavy weapons or for the region to face a military operation.
The source said that the rebel groups in the northern Homs countryside have not yet taken a final decision about their position.
The Rastan Operations Room published the conditions which the Russian representative, Alexander Zoriev, imposed in the negotiations on the rebel groups. Maj. Mohamed al-Ahmed, a representative for the operations room in the negotiations committee said that the items imposed by the latter were “not feasible”.
Ahmed said that Zoriev had put forward the items of the deal by way of dictation and said that the Russians described the rebel groups in northern Homs during the negotiations as “a terrorist group who cannot enter into an agreement with us,” as he put it.
Ahmed presented the 10 items offered by the Russians to the rebel groups. They are:
1 – Hand over heavy weapons and some medium weapons by Thursday at 12:00 pm.
2 – Secure exit for those who do not want to enter the agreement to northern Syria.
3 – Those who wish to remain hand over their weapons and “regularize their status”.
4 – Regularize the status of defected officers. Those whose hands have blood on them are not accepted.
5 – Russian military police along with regime civilian police enter the northern Homs countryside.
6 – Regime civilian institutions enter and begin work in the city.
7 – A vow to review the status of prisoners in mid-May.
8 – A vow the regime army and its security forces will not enter the city within six months.
9 – Giving a deadline to those between the ages of 18 and 42 years to do compulsory conscription within six months.
10 – Opening and protection of the public road to the Assad regime army and security forces.
Rejection of the demands
Rebel groups in the northern Homs countryside published a statement on Tuesday in which they announced they were rejecting the Russians’ demands, which they described as “humiliating.”
The groups said: "We announce our rejection of the latest Russian proposal put forward on May 1, 2018, because of its lack of any guarantee for the future of civilians in the northern countryside region. We announce our commitment to self-defense and the defense of our people.”
The Assad regime and its allies are blockading the northern Homs countryside and have subjected the area repeatedly to bombardment, which has killed and wounded civilians.
The regime has tried repeatedly to storm the area but has failed.
The northern Homs countryside is one of the “de-escalation” zones stipulated by the Astana agreement of which Turkey, Russia and Iran are the guarantor countries.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.