The Head of the Political Bureau in Ahrar al-Sham explains the circumstances of the Zabadani-Foua agreement

Eldorar Alshamia Editor | 23 April, 2017

ElDorar AlShamia:

Demonstrations broke out in several cities in the province of Idlib on Sunday called on the factions overseeing the implementation of the agreement (Zabadani- Foua), of Ahrar al-Sham and Ha’ayat Tahrir al-Sham HTS, to work for the release of detainees, as the demonstrators raised slogans express the discontent on the backdrop of the arrival of only 120 detainees to the liberated areas in the north Syria released by the Syrian regime as part of the swap deal where the regime claimed that 630 of the 750 released detainees preferred to stay in its held areas . Later, the 120 detainees were found to be detained only days or weeks ago.

The agreement, known as the Five Cities or the Zabadani-Foua Agreement, was widely criticized by revolutionary bodies and entities. The criticism was focused on the losing of what was considered as a "trump card" the factions had and  Ahrar al-Sham and HTS did not publish the terms of the agreement clearly. The release of the Qataris abductees kidnapped by the Popular Mobilization militia in Iraq was included in the sawp deal as the the wide spread leaks on the two factions overseeing the deal taking funds for the completion.

To ascertain the circumstances of this agreement and its secrets, ElDorar AlShamia network conducted a press interview with Mounir Sial, head of the political wing of the Islamic Movement of Ahrar al-Sham, one of the figures who attended the negotiations vs the Iranian side and Hezbollah militia, and supervised the file of "Zabadani-Foua Agreement" for some time.

Full-text Dialogue:

  • What are the reasons and motives that prompted you to enter into such an agreement?

At the beginning we salute our people and our revolutionaries from Madaya and Zabadani for their patience and steadfastness throughout the siege. We congratulate them for their safe arrival and end their long suffering. We hope that Allah will preserve the remaining of our people in Madaya who chose to stay in their city after the siege was lifted.

It is important to emphasize that we have always sought to achieve two important things through the negotiations since its inception in 2015 firstly: the stabilization of Syrian civilians of all their affiliations in their residence areas, and the second matter is: to release the largest number of prisoners. In this context with the renewal of the negotiations in late 2016, we offered different high-roof terms for the other side (the regime and Iran) who primarly accepted upon but some contradictions with the HTS "former Fatah al-Sham front”, which shares us in the front lines on Foua, it has really wasted the opportunity to the revolution to achieve a better agreement at a lower cost. We agreed on the need to reach an understanding on the al-Fawa file But we differed in T. Prioritized.

The tragic conditions in the cities of Madaya and Zabadani played a key role in speeding up reaching an agreement that would save them. The stagnation of the talks file because of the delay in reaching an understanding with HTS   led to the fall of the besieged neighborhood of al-Wa’er in Homs, which reduced the possibility of real gains.

  • Are there items of the agreement that have not yet been disclosed?

The terms of agreement held between Jaysh al-Fateh and the other party differs only in the wording of what was published in the media and we are ready to present the original picture of the agreement.

  • There is a large scale criticizing for you because you entered into an agreement that does not take into account all the besieged areas. Why?

We have been keen on this, and the draft of the first agreements included al-Wa’er district, the south of the capital in addition to the area of ​​Madaya and Zabadani and their vicinity, but we lost a lot of time in the understanding of the priorities of the negotiating file with the "former Fateh al-Sham group" currently Ha’ayat Tahrir al-Sham HTS.

I would like to emphasize once again that the situation of our people in Zabadani and Madaya reached a difficult stage, which made us accept the agreement even though we realized that it was below the level of our ambitions.

In Zabadani, for example, 150 fighters from the region in an area not exceeding hundreds of meters, surrounded by the regime and the backed  militias. All these circumstances made us accept the agreement. Although we are aware that it is below the level of our ambitions.

  • Why it had not been specified names of detainees be required to release them?

The file of the prisoners is one of the most thorny and complex files, and the timing of linking it to the file of Foua town was very exhausting be cause of the  pressure of the humanitarian situation in Madaya and Zabadani, the criminal regime is still ignoring this file and does not care to exchange his prisoners with the various revolutionary forces.

The term on prisoners under the agreement is a part of the second phase. It requires the release of 1500 prisoners from the regime's prisons of the detainees arrested in light of the events of the revolution.

It is clear that what was achieved in the first stage of some gains in the file of prisoners is the result of constant pressure in the negotiation and during the preparation for implementation, as we have made some amendments to the file of prisoners in the hope of achieving greater gains in the first phase.

The file of prisoners need a long breath and pressure papers, and after the end of the suffering of our people in Zabadani and Madaya , it has become available to us to achieve stronger gains, God willing.

  • What is the relationship between the release of Qatari abductees and the agreement? Was this condition is one of the most important reasons for its conclusion?

The Qatari abductees' condition was not essential to the signing of the agreement. The issue of the abductees was not on the negotiating table, but rather later on. There is no doubt that it put additional pressure on us. They were kidnapped and their state was blackmailed because of the position of the brothers in Qatar on the Syrian issue.

The main change in the course of the negotiations was the involvement of the Iranian party (through Hezbollah) in the recent months to the issue of the Qatari hostages kidnapped in Iraq and linking their fate to the fate of Kafriya and Foua towns. The Iranian side linked the fate of Zabadani and Madaya with these towns also.

  • What is the fact that you received money from the sponsoring state?

The movement of Ahrar al-Sham will not receive neither a small nor a large sum of money from our brothers in the State of Qatar in exchange for the release of the abductees. It is not reasonable to deal with a state allied to the revolution in such a militia mentality.