By Oliviero Reusser
Documents published on the 21th of August revealed details of the ceasefire agreed upon by the opposition group Faylaq al-Rahman and Russia during talks in Cairo, Egypt. The representatives reached an agreement which aims to stop an ongoing two-month offensive by government forces on the areas of Jobar and Ain Terma on the western outskirts of the eastern Ghouta pocket. The pocket has been besieged for atleast four years now, but control over it is split between several anti-government groups. While the east and towns such as Duma, Mesraba and Nashabiyah are controlled by Jaish al-Islam, the western sector including Jobar, Ain Terma and Zamalka is mostly controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman. The now rebranded former official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, is also present in the areas controlled by Faylaq al-Rahman.
After Russia and the Syrian government already reached a ceasefire agreement with Jaish al-Islam for the eastern area, which included a general ceasefire and the delivery of aid, a government offensive onto Jobar and Ain Terma, led by the 4th Division, continued into its second month. Despite facing fierce resistance by Faylaq al-Rahman, the government managed to capture several areas near the Ain Terma markets and the nearby highway intersection. The map below shows the advances made by the government forces.
The newly agreed ceasefire puts an end to this fighting. Its exact terms are now known thanks to the documents released by both sides; the original arabic papers can be seen below.
Both sides declare to commit to find a peaceful solution to the new de-escalation zone in eastern Ghouta. Russia is declared as guarantor and both sides affirm their respect for the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and the need to stop any further killings. Both sides will stop shelling each other and agree to draw lines for the de-escalation zone, which reflect the reality of the situation on the ground, which shall not change as long as the agreement is in effect. The ceasefire shall start on the 18th of August at 21:00 Damascus time. Opposition groups in eastern Ghouta will stop shelling, especially one targeting the Russian embassy in Damascus. Faylaq al-Rahman commits to preventing the presence of any HTS fighters in the areas under its control, an organisation which is designated as terror group in Russia. Both parties commit to stop clashes and shelling of any sorts and do everything necessary in order to improve the humanitarian situation, including through aid and food convoys, aswell as reconstruction materials. Russia as guarantor will also faciliate trading and the general entry of goods into besieged eastern Ghouta. A civilian committee will be formed to resolve and disputes concering the civilian population and Russian forces will be deployed along the demarcation line of the de-escalation zone in order to monitor the cessation of hostilites. This agreement shall be the groundwork for a comprehensive future political solution.
As can be seen, the agreement entails several key points which have been observed in other similar instances: the deployment of Russian Military Police, entrance of aid convoy and the introduction of a general ceasefire along agreed-upon lines between the two opposing parties. While every news of a ceasefire is great and is one step closer to stop violence and improve the situation of the civilians, it remains to be seen how effective the ceasefire will be. Opposition organisations and activists have reported shelling in the last few days despite the ceasefire agreements, and pro-government reporters have also denied any news of a ceasefire agreement.