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Nusra Confronts Syrian Factions in Response to ‘Secret’ Astana Clause | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attended the talks in Astana/ Reuters Mukhtar Kholdorbekov

Beirut, Astana- A secret clause included in the Astana agreement triggered on Tuesday a battle between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Syrian opposition factions.

The clause calls for bolstering the positions controlled by the Syrian regime and opposition forces during the ceasefire, but allows advances at the expense of ISIS and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (previously al-Nusra Front).

Informed Syrian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the clause “bolsters the ceasefire reached in Syria and reinforces the positions of parties involved in the conflict, including the Syrian regime and their allies from one part and the opposition forces from another part.”

However, it made an exception by allowing advancement at the expense of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and ISIS, two factions not included in the ceasefire agreement.

“Therefore, taking positions controlled by the two extremist movements would be considered legitimate,” the sources said.

The sources added that this unannounced clause reached in the Astana agreement had triggered a race between opposition factions and regime forces on annexing Jabhat Fatah al-Sham controlled areas.

“This clause transformed the positions held by al-Nusra into a cake that that regime forces and opposition factions are trying to annex with an attempt to boost their geographic powers,” the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Therefore, the talks between opposition factions and the Syrian regime in the Kazakh capital, Astana, approved the emergence of a Syrian military movement with the mission of crashing Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in Syria.

Last week, al-Nusra kicked off a new campaign against a number of moderate factions in the north of Syria, a development that pushed those opposition forces to join hands against the extremist movement.

That allowed Ahrar al-Sham, Sukour al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and Fastaqim group to advance towards the countryside of north Idlib and the west of Aleppo province to stop the attack launched by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham against Jaysh al-Mujahiddeen, several opposition networks reported.

Sham network said on Tuesday that armed confrontations emerged between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and other opposition factions in several towns and villages in the Jabal al-Zawiya.

Several analysts link the current attack of moderate opposition military factions on extremist movements in the north to the attempt of crashing ISIS during 2014 in the same area.

Political expert Abdelrahman al-Hajj told Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday that the Astana meeting has launched the battles between opposition factions and Fatah al-Islam.

“What is happening today is the first step towards ending Jabhat Fatah al-Sham or dismantling the movement,” al-Hajj said.

On Tuesday, a Russian-Turkish-Iranian agreement emerged from the Astana international meeting to bolster the shaky truce in Syria after two days of talks.

The agreement stipulates the creation of a trilateral mechanism to observe the ceasefire, without the ability of guaranteeing the endurance of the truce, reached last December in Ankara. The agreement also comes as the representative of the Syrian regime in Astana asserted his country would continue its military operations in the Barada Valley “as long as Damascus is deprived from water.”

Moscow, Tehran and Ankara also agreed armed groups should take part in a new round of peace talks brokered by the U.N. in Geneva next month.

“There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict and… it can only be solved through a political process,” said the closing statement issued by Russia, Iran and Turkey.