By Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times
The Syrian government and rebels struck a rare agreement Monday to restore electricity in Aleppo province, cut off by the opposition for more than a week, in exchange for a cessation of airstrikes by the military.
Several rebel groups severed the electricity for the province, demanding that the government cease its bombardment on opposition areas with barrel bombs. The oil drums filled with TNT have ravaged the city of Aleppo and its suburbs for four months and have led to a mass exodus of residents. Activists estimate that more than 2,000 civilians have been killed in the bombings alone.
The deal is scheduled to go into effect Tuesday.
Truces have become common around the capital, Damascus, as the military blockades have led opposition-held areas to agree to lay down arms in exchange for food and medicine. However, rebels in the north have long rejected any calls for cease-fires.
But the months of unrelenting bombardment, which have left some parts of Aleppo almost entirely deserted, led to the ultimatum by the rebels. They had threatened that if the government did not relent, the electricity outages would be extended to Damascus and the coastal province of Latakia, a stronghold for President Bashar Assad.
“The regime recently began dropping the explosive barrels on the civilians in an insane way,” said Yaser Ataee, spokesman for the Sharia Committee in Aleppo, which reached the agreement with the government.
The partial truce, which will have no effect on ongoing clashes between the two sides, comes on the heels of a weekslong offensive by the rebels. The fighting has seen the opposition regain the upper hand against the military in Aleppo, cutting off a strategic reinforcement route and besieging the government-controlled parts of the city, though at least one passage remains open for civilians and humanitarian needs.
State media reported the restoration of power to Aleppo province but gave a differing account. The Ministry of Electricity reported that power lines damaged by terrorist groups had been repaired, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency. The government routinely refers to opposition forces as terrorists.
The development is the latest in the battle for Aleppo, which has seen a switching of fortunes from one side to the other. Government forces had been gradually retaking parts of Aleppo for many months and in March were close to encircling and blockading rebel-held areas.
On Monday, the Sharia Committee, along with several rebel factions including the Islamic Front and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, received a written agreement from the government by way of the Red Crescent, Ataee said.
The agreement includes promises on both sides not to target civilians and not to interfere with utilities such as water and electricity. Ataee said that electricity to several parts of the city was restored on Monday, earlier than expected.
“And if the regime breaks any clause (of the agreement), we will easily do what needs to be done,” he said. “In a few hours we will see the regime’s compliance with this issue, even though we doubt it will comply. But this is necessary to embarrass them diplomatically.”
Photo via AFP