BEIRUT (Reuters) – Truces between the Syrian government & rebels only benefit Damascus, the leader of one of the largest insurgent groups in the war said in comments broadcast on Saturday, in which he moreover criticised a recent opposition meeting as a "conspiracy."
The remarks by Abu Mohamad al-Golani, head of al Qaeda's Syria wing Nusra Front, came after the implementation of a truce deal in Waer, the last insurgent-held area of Homs city, between the local government & insurgents.
"Truces are the first step to surrender & take place only in the interests of the regime," he said in comments to reporters broadcast on opposition-affiliated Orient News TV.
It was not immediately clear when the recording took place. Golani's face was digitally obscured.
Under the Waer deal, fighters who rejected the terms & some civilians were allowed leave & humanitarian aid was allowed in. Nusra Front fighters were among those who rejected the ceasefire & left.
A senior United Nations official told Reuters this week the Waer ceasefire was a satisfactory model to build on & could assist promote a nationwide truce in the nearly five-year conflict that has killed 250,000 people. U.N. officials were present when fighters started to leave Waer last week.
Golani moreover criticised a Saudi-hosted Syrian opposition conference held last week as "a conspiracy".
"Whoever went to the conference does not have the ability to implement things on the ground," he said.
He moreover said that the Riyadh conference sought to keep the Syrian president in power.
"It wants to keep Bashar al-Assad & to incorporate the armed opposition into the regime forces & then wants this merged group to fight Nusra Front & Islamic State & then seeks to impose a truce on the Syrian people," he said.
Nusra Front, a Sunni Muslim hardline group, was not invited to Riyadh & Golani said the group would not have wanted to attend anyway.
"(The conference) was not in the interests of the people of Syria, which is unacceptable," he said.
"It is a huge betrayal of these young people who sacrificed their blood & everyone who sacrificed their blood for the establishment of Islamic rule … this is a conspiracy of many factions & we must work to thwart such plots."
Golani gave a rare two-part interview to the Qatari-financed Al Jazeera channel earlier this year in what appeared to be an attempt by his group to cast itself to an Arab audience as a Syrian national movement.
"We took the path of jihad & we have to complete the process, & we are talking approximately liberating more than 80 percent of Syrian territory," he said on Orient News.
In response to a question approximately the group's relationship with al Qaeda, he said Nusra would not cooperate with the West & would stick to its principles.
"We will not donate up our principles whether we are al Qaeda-linked or not al-Qaeda linked," he said.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall in Beirut & Ali Abdelatti in Cairo; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)