Beirut – Anti-government crowds protested on Friday in several territories held by rebel forces that have been fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Across territory in Azaz, Maarat al-Numan, and in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta large crowds with banners and speakers demanded President Assad resignation.

Less than a week into the U.S.-Russian agreement that proposes to cease-fire in Syria, the country’s opposition claimed the government was mobilizing forces on many fronts. People spread across Syrian territory questioning if the peace talks planned for next week would take place.

The factions opposing Assad’s forces and its allies appear to share a common objective: the overthrowing of the regime. Credit: Drayton Tribune

The rallies in rebel-held areas were small. Pictures posted on social media showed hundreds protesting in the eastern sector of the city of Aleppo, in the western Waer neighborhood of Homs and in Idlib province. The protesters called on Assad’s government to release detainees from prisons and lift several sieges on opposition areas. Both issues that have been key demands of the opposition ahead of peace talks planned to continue in Geneva next Wednesday.

Opposition said the circumstances are not suitable to resume peace talks

The opposition has yet to say whether it will attend peace talks planned for March 9. Riad Hijab, who leads the opposition High Negotiations Committee, said in Paris that despite the truce, Syrian military operations are still ongoing, and the demands they listed as terms to continue with peace talks have not been met yet, thus the current circumstances are not suitable to resume the talks.

The High Negotiating Committee, organized in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, issued a statement listing seven goals. The demands should be honor in order to continue with peace talks. First, they call for the removal of the Assad regime from power, an end to all sieges, provision of adequate humanitarian aid, the release of detainees and the expulsion of Iranian and Shiite sectarian militia, according to a translation by Lister.

The rebel coalition also wants refugees to be allowed to return to their communities and the Russian forces to be extracted from Syria. Hijab added that the United States has made many concessions to Russia, one of the main backers of Assad.

Protests showed opposition still holds to its demands

Matt McInnis of the American Enterprise Institute said that despite reports of airstrikes, the cease-fire agreement that the U.S. and Russia sponsored – which went into effect on Saturday and has not been signed directly by the Syrians – has led to a tenuous reduction in violence.

McInnis added that the protests were held to show that the opposition, which has been badly battered by Syria’s Russian-backed forces, still holds to its demands from the beginning of the civil war but wants a political solution rather than to focus on the conflict.

“It’s going to be tough to compromise given the war crimes Assad has committed against them,” he said, according to USA today. “These protests show these people are looking for something and still dealing with outside backers, the Saudis, Qataris and Turks, who are not willing to accept Assad staying.”

Source: The New York Times