A cessation of hostilities agreement in Syria, brokered by the US and Russia, officially came into effect last Saturday.
In an attempt to monitor any breaches of the peace deal, the State Department set up a ceasefire hotline for those wishing to phone in any “firsthand knowledge of a violation of the cessation of hostilities.”
Late Saturday night, a Syrian journalist tried to do just that. But he was greeted by an operator who could barely speak or understand Arabic, according to the non-profit journalism organisation Syria Direct.
“I called at 12:45 a.m. Saturday morning, just 45 minutes into the ceasefire,” Orion Wilcox, a staff reporter at Syria Direct based in Jordan, said on Wednesday. “I didn’t expect an American to answer.”
“He answered in English but switched to Arabic. I started telling him in Arabic about reports we were getting from Homs province of specific ceasefire violations,” Wilcox added. “He’s really struggling and can’t understand me. I’m like, why is this American guy on the phone who can’t speak Arabic? I’d give a detailed account of something happening in Homs province and he would listen and his answer was: ‘Homs.’ That’s it.”
Though violence has “plummeted” in the wake of the agreement, breaches are still being reported by both sides.
Opposition activists in rebel-held areas say Russia is still bombing them, despite Moscow’s claim that it would only target areas controlled by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State — jihadist groups excluded from the peace plan and considered fair game for airstrikes.
The Russian Ministry of Defence, meanwhile, said earlier this week that both moderate and terrorist opposition factions had violated the agreement at least nine times since Saturday’s truce.
Even so, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that US officials had “not been apprised of any claims of any additional violations of any significance” since the truce came into effect.
“These statements show that America has no idea what’s happening on the ground in Syria,” Salim a-Rihal, a Syrian from Homs, told Syria Direct in response to Kirby’s statement.
The US’ Special Envoy for Syria reiterated that the US remains committed to monitoring the ceasefire and will respond appropriately to any reported breaches. But that sources within Syria seem unable to adequately communicate with the State Department’s ceasefire operators appears, to many, symbolic of the US’ mismanagement of the conflict as a whole.
“We attempted to call the [Department of State’s hotline], but we don’t think they understood what we were saying,” Abu Odei al-Homsi, an activist with the Ceasefire Monitoring Center in Homs, told Syria Direct.
A State Department official responded to the complaints on Wednesday, telling Syria Direct that officials are “mindful and working to address the difficulties that some have experienced when calling in to convey reports of violations in Arabic.”
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