Alwaght- liberation of the strategic Syrian city of Aleppo to a large extent paved the wave for moving toward a political settlement for the Syrian crisis. It can be suggested that following the overarching and decisive event in the Syrian crisis, the military aspect of the conflict was largely overshadowed by the political aspect.
The tripartite meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey in Moscow and the subsequent agreement on holding the Astana peace talks with presence of military– and not political– figures of the anti-Damascus camp perhaps was the initial strong jump to start settling the Syrian crisis politically. This means that both sides of the conflict, namely the Syrian government and the armed groups, are arranging their battleground gains as bargaining chips to use them against each other at the negotiating table.
Anyway, the Syrian government through its recent victory in the strategic northern city of Aleppo to a large extent changed the balance of power to its own favor. On the other side, while only a couple of days are left to start of Astana peace dialogue, the armed groups are going to great lengths to collect trump cards to help them with bargaining at the negotiating table.
At the time being, one of the key bargaining chips of anti-Damascus militant groups is the case of seizure of Damascus province’s drinking water that meets needs of over five million residents of the capital and its outskirts. The Syrian army has done its best so far to find a settlement for this critical problem that well influences the public opinion, but violations by the militants, which are organized and supported by the foreign sides and their regional backers, have blocked the ways of any solution to the crisis. The militants do not seem to be poised to lose such a significance trump card before the Astana meeting to increase their power of bargaining.
On the ground, when the Syria army forces retook control of Bassemeh village and Ein Al Fejeh spring in Wadi Barada near the capital, the militants were forced into weak position and so acceded to an agreement. Then, the retired army Brigadier General Ahmed al-Ghadhban, who was appointed by President Bashar al-Assad sd manager of the affair of the villages and towns around the capital and also coordinator of the reconciliation process and truce deal in Wadi Barada region, entered the area.
After cleansing the area for entry of engineering teams to repair and maintain the water pumps of Ein Al Fejeh spring according to a ceasefire deal with the militants, the Brigadier General al-Ghadhban was assassinated by the militants. In fact, the truce with the militant groups could restore the troubled water supply to Damascus a week before start of the scheduled Kazakhstan peace negotiations. But assassination of representative of President Assad for peace helped the militants restore such an influential and important bargaining chip that will allow them put strains on the government.
The militants tried to stay out of what United Nations labeled a “war crime” of sabotaging the water resources of the capital by claiming that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front) was majorly responsible for the violation of the terms of the accord. Omar al-Shami, an opposition media figure close to Ahrar al-Sham militant group, in his Twitter account has indirectly held Jabhat Fateh al-Sham as accountable for the government representative assassination.
“The free revolutionary factions in Wadi Barada should detain the assassin of Brigadier General Ahmed al-Ghadhban and give him a revolutionary trial. Those who kill the representatives after granting them security are not revolutionary”, Omar al-Shami’s Twitter post read.
This comes while according to the available data, the commander of Ahrar al-Sham in Wadi Barada, known as Safi Alamuddin, was the culprit of the assassination operation.
Generally, as it was earlier noted by use of widespread accusations the militants are trying to on the one hand build a peace-seeking face for themselves among the Syrian public opinion and on the other hand continue deal breaches to hold the Damascus water crisis as a trump card until the day of Astana negotiations for a strong bargaining power.
Another point is that because the militant figures are central to the opposition camp in the forthcoming talks in Kazakhstan, the Western sides have put high on their agenda attacks against military and security officials of Syria, especially the Syrian president and his brother Maher al-Assad. They are also raising the already-held argument of the chemical attacks to forge new pretexts against the Syrian military leaders to challenge and dampen the Syrian government’s legitimacy just some days before the beginning of the peace negotiations.
As part of the plan, the US Department of the Treasury a couple of days ago blacklisted five Syrian military institutions as well as 18 top Syrian officials including Colonel Soheil Hassan Hassan, the chief of Syrian air force intelligence directorate in Idlib province, on charges of carrying out chemical attacks on Tal Mansadr town in 2014 and Qaminas village and Sarmin town in 2015. The statement of Treasury Department read that the fresh sanctions targeted institutions belonging to the Syrian air force, air defense, navy, presidential guard, as well as the Syria Industrial Technologies Organization, a research center, for what it called their use of mass destruction weapons (WMDs) in the conflict.
Some days later, the Reuters news agency, relying to “a document”, alleged that the UN inspectors for the first time are suspecting the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his brother of using chemical weapons in the country's domestic struggle.
In fact, the liberation of Aleppo played an influential role in frustration of Assad-free Syria agenda of the West. Actually, the Aleppo triumph foiled all of the Western political schemes and media propaganda. Now, the Syria-Russia-Iran bloc is heading to the negotiating table with a hand full of bargaining chips. In other words, Aleppo retaking left no room for discussion of Syria’s Assad removal. This pushes the anti-Assad camp to question the president and the military figures of the Syrian government some days before the talks to wrest concessions in the negotiations and so bolster bargaining powers in relation to the future of President Assad in the country.