The truce brokered in Homs was not new and the United Nations didn’t interfere until the final, direct two-stage negotiations between the rebels and the regime, sources have revealed.
Al-Quds al-Arabi spoke to Sheikh Abu al-Hareth al-Khaledi in the besieged Homs, who was elected by the civilians and the military council in Homs to negotiate indirectly with the regime through the United Nations.
Khaledi said he regarded the agreement as a great achievement "because we evacuated hundreds of people from death to life. If we had wanted to evacuate them by force, we would have lost hundreds of our young men. We tried to avoid what happened in Qusayr, where many people died because we didn’t reach an agreement to evacuate the wounded and the civilians from the town," Khaledi said.
Asked about fears that the regime may destroy the besieged areas after the evacuation of civilians, now that only rebels remained, Khaledi replied: "Did the civilians in Aleppo prevent the regime from shelling it with hundreds of explosive barrels? The regime knows that we are hungry, that there are children and elderly people, sick and wounded – and he benefited from this in the negotiations. We decided to evacuate these families because we were completely unable to provide them with food and medicine. We handed over a lot in order to end their tragedy."
According Khaledi, negotiations were underway with the regime before the U.N. intervened.
"The military council chose me to communicate with figures in the regime. Firstly, I communicated with the director of Political Security branch in Homs, general Hussam Loka, who suggested a compromise that included only the Old Homs region. He offered to evacuate the besieged people on one condition; for each 200 civilians evacuated,100 fighters should give up their weapons and surrender. Of course we refused that offer because everybody in the besieged areas considered this compromise a treason. So General Hussam made another offer that included evacuating the fighters and the civilians all together to the northern part of Homs countryside through the Hassawiya region, so that they don’t have to pass through regime's checkpoints."
After the failure of negotiations with Loka, another round of direct negotiations with General Ali Salem at the Presidential Palace was launched, and Salem suggested a comprehensive compromise for Homs city. the officer said President Assad himself coordinated the compromise.
"The idea of the compromise depended on satisfying the furious pro-regime neighborhoods in Homs because it included that the battalions of the Free Syrian Army should establish People's Committees and take their weapons from the regime itself. The committees should form common checkpoints with regime's soldiers, then water and electricity will be allowed to the besieged regions. Finally maintenance workshops will be allowed to facilitate the evacuation of people. The rebels certainly refused that offer because it meant their direct subordination to regime's forces," Khaledi said.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer