BEIRUT — The ceasefire in Syria unofficially ended in bloodshed Monday, less than two months after its implementation. Syrian opposition forces made two major announcements heralding the renewal of military operations against the Assad regime and requesting that the United Nations delay the latest round of peace talks, scheduled for later this week, until embattled President Bashar Assad proves his commitment to a transitional government.
“A small delegation has come to meet [U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura in Geneva] and to ask him to pause the negotiations until the regime shows it is serious about political transition and humanitarian issues," a member of the opposition High Negotiations Committee told Agence France-Presse.
More than a thousand miles from Geneva, in the war-torn cities of Syria, several opposition groups announced a new offensive against the regime in the western provinces, launching joint operations against Assad's coastal stronghold of Latakia.
In a statement released online Monday, the opposition said the new operations were “in response to violations by the army” since the truce's initiation Feb. 27. Since that date, almost all involved parties have been accused of violations. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported 896 violations in the categories of “military operations and detention and obstruction of humanitarian aid access,” just up through March 25. At least 129 civilians were killed as a result of the breaches, according to the organization's data, of which Assad's side was responsible for at least 32 deaths.
In the same period, the Hemeimeem Coordination Center, Russia’s air base in the coastal province of Latakia, documented 372 violations from the opposition.
"[The opposition's] response should be retaliation so that the regime does not think of attacking civilians as it escalates its attacks," Mohammed Alloush, a member of Syrian opposition group Jaish al-Islam and key negotiator at the talks in Geneva, told the Arabic TV channel al Hadath. "I don't think this is a call to escalate violence, it is a call for self-defense.”
But two new operations announced Monday signal that the Syrian opposition has plans far beyond self-defense.
Liwa Fursan al-Haq (now part of North Division with Div 101) firing on regime at Jibal Turkmen, north Latakia. pic.twitter.com/nSPKm8wsjP
— Kyle W. Orton (@KyleWOrton) April 18, 2016
“Such offensives are notable as they underscore the opposition's assessment that the current ceasefire is no longer holding," stated a report from Asset Source, a monitoring site affiliated with the Levantine Group, a geopolitical risk and research consultancy. "The renewal of opposition attacks on several fronts will likely continue to encourage a full resumption of Russian airstrikes.”
In Latakia, the new opposition battle partnership includes Ahrar al-Sham, a prominent rebel group with ties to al Qaeda, and several opposition brigades aligned with the Free Syrian Army. Together, the allied fighters said they seized the regime-held seaside towns of Nashbba, Rasha and al-Malik in Latakia province Monday morning local time. Clashes between opposition and regime forces continued into the afternoon.
— Julian Röpcke (@JulianRoepcke) April 18, 2016
Syrian opposition groups have had their eyes on the coastal region since the beginning of April — last week, rebel groups and militants from al Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat al-Nusra attempted to infiltrate the area with an attack on the strategically located mountain Jabal Qalat, but forces loyal to Assad and the Syrian army successfully repelled the operation.