AMMAN: Negotiators in regime-blockaded north Homs reached a renewed ceasefire agreement with Russian representatives this week, but one member of the opposition delegation tells Syria Direct he is "not optimistic" about the release of detainees, a key term.
A delegation of six opposition negotiators from north Homs signed an agreement with their Russian counterparts on Wednesday after weeks of talks. The same day, the Homs delegation also submitted a list of over 12,000 regime-held detainees from across the province, whose release is a major sticking point on the way to a lasting settlement.
“I am not optimistic about what will happen with the [detainee] issue moving forward, but I hope that things will end well,” opposition negotiator Aamer al-Aamer, who participated in the talks, told Syria Direct on Thursday.
A previous agreement—signed in Cairo by delegations from Russia and the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and announced on August 3—fell through because the terms did not adequately reflect the demands of local residents, namely the release of detainees.
The Cairo ceasefire stipulated the release of detainees, but did not set a specific mechanism for its implementation.
The failure of the agreement, negotiator al-Aamer told Syria Direct in August, was that “the people who signed the agreement do not represent the northern countryside,” referring to the SNC delegation.
Days after the Cairo agreement was announced, it disintegrated. Syrian warplanes conducted airstrikes on agricultural regions of north Homs—a collection of cities, towns, villages and rural areas home to an estimated 260,000 residents. Local rebel factions then responded with retaliatory artillery fire against nearby regime positions.
Residents of Rastan in north Homs protest for prisoner release on Sept. 23. Photo courtesy of Smart News Agency.
Pro-regime and rebel forces clashed in the north Homs as recently as September 29, according to a statement by a local Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated faction.
Wednesday’s preliminary agreement ushers in an immediate ceasefire between rebel and regime forces in the northern Homs countryside. The terms also stipulate the opening of five humanitarian corridors into the encircled pocket and the handover of all documentation on detainees to the Russian delegation, who have pledged to work toward the prisoner release, according to a copy of the terms provided by local negotiator al-Aamer.
Neither Syrian nor Russian state media have commented on the ceasefire agreement.
Apparent violations of the latest ceasefire have already been reported.
Regime forces allegedly fired heavy machine guns at targets in the north Homs town of Rastan on Thursday from positions on the outskirts of the blockaded pocket, reported the Homs Media Center.
Al-Aamer says a regime violation was also documented on Wednesday after the agreement was signed, but said the ceasefire is still in effect.
The opposition negotiator stressed that work continues on the terms of the ceasefire agreement. Wednesday’s terms do not include any concrete steps toward the release of detainees.
"Unless the Russians put pressure on the regime, neither the Red Cross nor the United Nations will be able to secure the release of a single detainee," al-Aamer told Syria Direct.