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Assad vows 'to retake Syria' as rebels question ceasefire

The Syria Campaign says Russia is 'the number one killer of civilians' [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 February, 2016

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The Free Syria Army says the ceasefire deal is "a trap", as President Assad vows to seize control of the entire country.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to retake "the whole of the country" from armed rebels and jihadist groups.

Assad, speaking in a rare interview, welcomed peace talks underway in Munich but said such deals did not mean Damascus would "stop fighting terrorism" - a term which ruling officials and allied media broadly use for any opposition to his continuing rule.

Diplomats gathering in Germany agreed on Friday to work towards implementing a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria within a week.

The deal came as a result of negotiations between the US, which had wanted an immediate ceasefire, and Russia, which had proposed one to start on 1 March.

But Assad's comments will likely put a dampener on hopes for an end to violence in the country where the five-year war has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced some 11 million from their homes.

Assad rejected allegations that he was guilty of war crimes, and told AFP that his troops would re-capture control across the Syria "without any hesitation".

"The solution will take a long time and will incur a heavy price," he admitted.

US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the Munich deal as a significant accomplishment - but noted that the agreement, if it could be achieved, would only be a "pause" in fighting and that more work would need to be done to turn it into a fully-fledged ceasefire.

"The real test is whether or not all the parties honour those commitments and implement them," he told reporters after the nearly six-hour meeting in Munich.

Assad said he "fully believed in negotiations and in political action, since the beginning of the crisis".

The Russian air campaign in support of Assad's military will also continue against "terrorist groups", Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said.

It remains unclear which groups fighting on the ground will be eligible for the truce, leaving most sceptical over the deal.

The Russian air campaign in support of Assad's military will continue against 'terrorist groups'


"This is merely another step towards Russia's plan for Syria, which seeks to support Assad's regime and bury the revolution," Ahmed Berri, chief of staff for the Free Syrian Army, told The New Arab.

"The agreement will be a trap," Berri cautioned, "They will seek to exclude al-Nusra Front and continue with intensified airstrikes against it, killing civilians and opposition armed groups on their way.

"Leave al-Nusra Front to us, we will reach an understanding with them," Berri urged.

Meanwhile, the Southern Front, an alliance of opposition fighters in southern Syria that have come under intense Russian bombardment, echoed the same concerns.

"We are sceptical that Russia will hold to these commitments when its current policy it to indiscriminately bomb all parties in Syria into the dust, in particular civilians and moderate opposition, and with complete impunity, while saying they are bombing terrorists."

The Syrian National Coalition [SNC] has not yet released an official response to the deal, but their ambassador in Rome Bassam al-Emadi told The New Arab that the agreement was "the same as previous ones".

"The problem is in the continued targeting of Islamic State group [IS] and al-Nusra Front militants, which Russia uses as excuse to continue its bombardments of areas where the armed opposition is present," Emadi said.

The problem is in the continued targeting of Islamic State and al-Nusra Front militants, which Russia uses as excuse to continue its bombardments of areas where the armed opposition is present

-The Syrian National Coalition


"This is what Russia has been doing since it first intervened in Syria and it will continue to do so as long as the US is compromising," he added.

The director of The Syria Campaign, James Sadri, expressed caution over excluding Russian airstrikes from the agreement.

"This year, Russia has become the number one killer of civilians in Syria, killing more than the Assad regime, al-Qaeda and IS combined," he said.
 
"If this proposed ceasefire doesn't stop Russian warplanes from bombing hospitals and schools, then the US and others shouldn't pretend it's a ceasefire," he added.

If this proposed ceasefire doesn't stop Russian warplanes from bombing hospitals and schools, then the US and others shouldn't pretend it's a ceasefire

-The Syria Campaign 


Meanwhile, humanitarian access to the war-torn country is set to be discussed in Geneva on Friday.

Washington and Moscow are to co-chair a working group on humanitarian aid to deal with the "modalities" of the temporary truce in Syria.

But both the Syrian government and the opposition will have to agree to the details.

The UN has warned that 300,000 people in eastern Aleppo city could be cut off from humanitarian aid if government forces encircle the area, a tactic used by the regime to devastating effect against other former rebel bastions.

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