Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham announced Thursday that at least six rebel factions had joined its ranks in northwestern Syria in order to counter a major assault by a powerful extremist group.
Ahrar al-Sham, which presents itself as a mainstream rebel group, sided with the FSA groups. It said that any attack on its members of was tantamount to a “declaration of war”.
Rebel factions Alwiyat Suqour al-Sham, Fastaqim, Jaish al-Islam’s Idlib branch, Jaish al-Mujahideen and al-Jabha al-Shamiya’s west Aleppo branch said in a statement they had joined Ahrar al-Sham.
The Ahrar al-Sham statement also mentioned a sixth group, the Sham Revolutionary Brigades, and said “other brigades” had joined.
On the other hand, a deal struck in October for Syria to buy one million tons of wheat from its ally Russia to prevent bread shortages in regime-held areas has not been fulfilled and may never be, Russian authority sources told Reuters.
A source at Russia’s agriculture ministry told Reuters he did not think the contract would ever be fulfilled because the company that won it, Zernomir, could not source the wheat at the agreed price, which was too low.
The contract was awarded at 150 euros ($161.37) a ton, on a cost and freight basis. That compares with the Black Sea price of $185 per tonne on a free-on-board basis (before adding the cost of freight) for Russian wheat with 12.5 percent protein for February supply quoted at the end of last week, according to Russian agricultural consultancy IKAR.
A Syrian regime official with knowledge of the deal said a final contract had still not been agreed and blamed bureaucratic delays, but added that there were no shortages.
An official at Russia’s agriculture ministry said the core problem was that the little-known firm that won the tender lacked experience and set the price too low.
Syrian buyer Hoboob set three separate tenders to buy an unprecedented 1.35 million tons of wheat last year, after continued fighting from the country’s nearly six-year war and poor rainfall halved the nation’s harvest to 1.3 million tons, the lowest in 27 years.