The screen grab share on social networks.
In the past month, there have been several cases of temporary truces in the fighting between Syrian soldiers and the armed opposition, notably in the suburbs of the capital Damascus. In this context, Internet users have shared a screen grab from a video presented as being a checkpoint manned by both rebels and the army. According to some Syrian Observers, this collaboration, which would be unprecedented, is plausible, but seems to be embarrassing the rebels.
The photo being shared on Twitter is a screen grab of a video filmed from an armored vehicle on January 25. It shows a road that is recognizable as one that passes by the Al-Salam mosque in Barzeh, a northern suburb of Damascus. This road served as a demarcation line between the two warring sides until a truce was signed several weeks ago. Twenty-eight seconds into the video, the entrance to a Barzeh neighbourhood held by the army is visible. Near it are armed men in civilian clothing standing next to men in soldiers’ uniforms. The person filming asks another in his vehicle, “Are those Free Army [rebels], on the right?” The other man says, 'Yes'.
Internet users who shared the screen grab from the video also describe this as a checkpoint jointly operated by soldiers from the regular army and rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is the first armed group that rose up against the Syrian regime before jihadist groups entered the fray. So does this mean these two enemies joined forces? Activists close to the FSA deny this.
"No direct contact between FSA and soldiers took place"
A truce was indeed called in Barzeh on January 7. But Ziad Al-Chami, an opposition activist who runs Barzeh’s media centre (which has close links to the FSA), told FRANCE 24 that no joint operation took place.
In the footage, the men are all from the regime’s side. There is no member of the FSA in this photo. No direct contact between FSA and soldiers took place, not even to negotiate the terms of the truce. [The truce was reportedly negotiated with the help of intermediaries not involved in the fighting.]
Al-Chami also explained that the regime has not yet complied with the terms of the truce, which include the army’s withdrawal from all of Barzeh and the release of captured rebels. Under these conditions, he says, it would be impossible for the two sides to even consider collaborating.
However, another video has raised doubts as to this version of the story. In this footage, published online by the Barzeh media centre and filmed on the demarcation line on January 13, just a few days after the start of the truce, a man in civilian clothing stands with uniformed soldiers, his face blurred by the centre’s activists. Did they do this in order to protect the identity of an FSA rebel working alongside the Syrian army? Al-Chami says this was not the case.
This was an error on the part of the technician who put the video online. The man whose face was blurred is a pro-regime activist, but his civilian clothing must have confused the technician and led him to make this mistake.
The regime made a big deal of this truce as the negotiations got underway with Geneva 2 [the Syrian peace conference held in Switzerland, the goal of which is to find a compromise between the Syrian government and the opposition]. They thought this would make it seem like they were making good-faith efforts to find solutions on the ground. I think that regime partisans are publishing the screen grab to hit two birds with one stone: to make the regime look like pacifiers and to discredit the FSA in the eyes of regime opponents by making it look like they’re collaborators.
Indeed, the Syrian regime did not simply announce a truce in Barzeh. Syria’s official news agency SANA wrote
that 200 rebels, describe as both jihadists and FSA members, had “put down their weapons” and “surrendered” following the Barzeh truce. The FSA firmly denied this ever happened.
"There seems to be exaggeration from both camps"
who are in conflict with the FSA also largely relayed the screen grab of the checkpoint and accused the FSA rebels of betraying the cause.
According to Alaa Ihssan, who lives in a pro-regime neighborhood of Damascus (but as the director of the Syrian Documentation Centre
has contacts in Barzeh), the FSA rebels needs to deny any collaboration in order to safeguard their image.
There seems to be exaggeration on both sides. This image shows both members of the regular army and the FSA, but it’s false to say that it was properly speaking a joint checkpoint, since neither side was manning it.
The spot where you see the men in the screen grab was the demarcation line before the truce. Up until then, it was very dangerous for anyone to cross it, because snipers from both sides were posted on each side of the street. Once the truce began, FSA fighters and soldiers appeared together to send the message that it was safe for residents who had left to return to their homes. This “checkpoint” was only in place for 48 hours, no doubt because the FSA realised – too late – the impact that this was having on its image.
According to the terms of the truce, Barzeh residents were allowed to return to their homes two weeks after the fighting stopped, which corresponds to the date when the video was filmed, from which the screen grab was taken.