Assad regime-rebel agreement in Homs a sign of things to come?

The Syrian army on Friday moved into Homs, the country’s third-largest city, after reaching a cease-fire agreement with rebel forces in the city.

May 15, 2014 11:01
3 minute read.

Besieged area of the Syrian city of Homs.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

If Syrian forces continue to win battles against the rebels, it may force them to make more cease-fire deals and withdrawals in other cities.

The Syrian army on Friday moved into Homs, the country’s third-largest city, after reaching a cease-fire agreement with rebel forces in the city, which has been under siege for the past three years.

An editorial by Saudi newspaper Al-Watan on Sunday argued that the Homs withdrawal could be repeated elsewhere, paving the way for further truces and rebel withdrawals.

This signifies a change in the Syrian war and perhaps will not be the last truce agreement, setting the stage for a world powers-brokered solution to the crisis, said the article.

“This is another stage Syria is going through on its way to become fragmented.

I have been saying this for three years,” Mordechai Kedar, director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar- Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post.

“The country is falling apart and this raises the question about the validity of Syrian nationalism, or ‘Syrianess’ as a real identity, an image the regime has tried to create for a feeling of togetherness,” explained Kedar.

Some analysts believe that the Homs case does not represent the situation in the rest of the country, where in some places the rebels are winning.

An analysis by Marlin Dick in the Lebanese Daily Star on Monday says the claim that the rebel withdrawal from Homs was a victory for the regime has been overstated since the war is “raging on more than half a dozen fronts.”

“Thus, on the day that rebels lost their foothold in Old Homs, the regime lost a military headquarters in Aleppo, a huge arms cache near Damascus and one of the few remaining villages in Quneitra province it holds,” said Dick.

Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told the Post that “the agreement is part of a trend to control areas that the government sees as essential: Damascus, Homs and the coast.”

The deal indicates the structured weakness of the opposition, he said, citing the division between the various groups as one example.

“But the battle is far from over and the rebels are still active in various regions of the country,” Zisser said, even though there is no doubt that over the past few months the regime has advanced and the immediate risk to Assad’s hold on power has passed.

Tony Badran, a columnist for the Beirut-based news site NOW Lebanon and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post that he “would be cautious in extrapolating a trend or pattern from the Homs deal.”

“First, location wise, the city of Homs lies in the area of regime control in western Syria. That means it was possible to encircle it and lay siege to it in a manner that is not automatically replicable elsewhere,” explained Badran.

Second, he said, the fact that the rebels were not pushed out despite the siege, starvation and relentless shelling is telling as they retained arms under the deal. These fighters will return to fight on other fronts.

“Now, there are a couple of other places where the regime is attempting to achieve the same result through sieges, like in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, though they haven’t all fallen,” said Badran, adding that the regime has been trying for months to encircle Aleppo, but has been unsuccessful so far.

The withdrawal of rebel fighters did not significantly alter the balance of forces that has existed over the past year, though it demonstrates that the regime is well on its way to consolidate a corridor from Damascus to the coast, he said.

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