There has been a lot of speculation about the recent deal between the United States and Russia regarding Syria. While some have approached it with a sense of hesitant optimism, others are completely discouraged by it.

The agreement consists of three primary points. First, it involves a ceasefire, as well as grounding President Bashar Al-Assad’s jets over some rebel-held areas. Second, it will bring humanitarian aid to all besieged areas in the country, including Aleppo. Third, it involves a plan to gather intelligence on Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (formerly known as Jabhat Al-Nusra) in preparation for joint U.S. and Russian airstrikes against it and ISIS.

But, as Sam Hamad argues in an article published in The New Arab on September 13, 2016, this deal will likely operate to the detriment of the Syrian rebels. Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham is closely intertwined with Syrian rebel forces generally, making it difficult to coordinate airstrikes exclusively against the group. Additionally, Russia’s hostility to the entire opposition likely means it has no serious desire to be discriminate in its attacks. The rebels have been targeted by Russian airstrikes since September 2015, and know the recent deal will not bring a complete end to the air campaign against them:

Why on earth would the rebels trust Russia, an entity that seeks their extermination, over even an ideologically disparate ally, such as JFS? 

JFS has played a crucial role in one of the most successful rebel coalitions, namely the Army of Conquest, which is led by the Hamas-esque Ahrar al-Sham and contains groups ranging from secular nationalists to Islamic democrats. This entity, which was formed in Idlib and successfully liberated that city, incorporates JFS and has mostly kept them in check. It was this coalition that broke the siege of Aleppo and that has acted as the armed guardians of civil rule in the city.

Under this deal, the Army of Conquest would be seen as an ally of JFS and thus worthy not just of Russian airstrikes that it has suffered for over a year, but potentially of US ones too.

Given that on the weekend before the deal came into effect the Assad regime and Russia murdered over 100 people, the scepticism of rebels to the deal is apposite. Indeed, just yesterday Assad, who has endorsed the deal, vowed to “take back all of Syria”.

To many rebels, the deal feels like a trap. As equally absurd as the idea of Russia as a benign mediator is that of the US as somehow speaking for the rebels – the rebels have no representation in this deal.

One feels that it’s more than just irony that sees moderate rebel groups that have in the past actually confronted JFS rejecting the deal. Indeed, the deal could force those rebels who seek a pluralistic and democratic post-Assad Syria, to draw closer with JFS – a dream come true for Russia, Iran and Assad. 

In this respect, it could pave the way for the controlled demolition of the rebellion under the pretext of combating JFS. Unlike the implicit threats by the US to join with Russia’s year-long strategy of hitting any group that has proximity with JFS, there is no threat to take action against Assad or Iran, should they break the ceasefire. They have nothing to lose from the deal collapsing, but might very well have everything to gain from it being sustained, and this is precisely what the rebels fear.

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