The Four Cities deal was one of the biggest and most dangerous deals during the very complex Syrian war.
Friday 14 April 2017 at 14:22 | Civilians and fighters belonging to jihadist factions protest in the city of Idlib northern Syria against the Four Cities Deal, a controversial deal held in Turkey and Qatar under the supervision of Iran, Qatar, Iraqi and several countries in 2017.
The deal was between an alliance of two enemies who fought extremely deadly battles against each other for years.
The first alliance was Lebanese Hezbollah group, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Iraqi mediators and the Syrian forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the second alliance was the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic group and the Jabhat al-Nusra group, which were the striking force of Jaish al-Fatah, a coalition of Islamic and rebels factions that seized Idlib province in 2016.
Al-Nusra was the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda.
Each alliance was besieging areas under the control of the other.
The negotiations, which took many months, allowed the entry of food to civilians in the besieged areas, including the Al-Waaer neighborhood, which is under the control of rebels in Homs province, central Syria.
The deal was called the Four Cities because it was designed for the cities of Kefraya al-Foua with a Shiite population besieged by the Sunni forces on the one hand, and the cities of Madaya and Zabadani with a Sunni population besieged by the Shiite forces, on the other hand. Later the deal included other cities.
It aimed to evacuate Shia fighters and civilians besieged in the cities of Kefraya and Al-Foua by Al-Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham in Idlib province to the Assad-controlled areas in the city of Aleppo in northern Syria.
At the same time of evacuation of Sunni fighters and civilians besieged by Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Assad’s forces in the cities of Madaya and Zabadani, west of the Syrian capital, Damascus, and some fighters from the Yarmouk camp, and the cities of Yalda and Babila, south of Damascus, to Idlib province.
Convoys of buses transporting the besieged fighters, with only their light weapons, will cross the cities loyal to Assad and the rebels alike while Syrian helicopters will fly over them to destroy any possible rebellion attempt.
It was one of the biggest and most dangerous deals during the very complex Syrian war.
The Syrian war descended devastatingly into dangerous stages after Assad began in 2012 to bring in Lebanese, Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan Shiite militias to the country to protect himself and his family that has ruled Syria for five decades.
The Free Syrian Army, an alliance of civilians, officers and soldiers who defected from the government army refusing to kill protesters during the early years of the Syrian revolution against Assad that broke out in 2011, had surrounded the Syrian capital Damascus and became just a few kilometers away from Assad’s palace.
It was the end of Assad, so he begged for Russian military support in 2016, and together they began to destroy the Free Syrian Army and let the jihadist groups grow to gain a pretext that they are fighting jihadists.
The alliance of Assad, Iran, Russia and the militias loyal to them began besieging the small rebel cities and destroying them one by one, and reaching cease-fire deals with the large rebel cities under the supervision of Turkey, which has long played the role of an ally of the rebels.
At that time Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some Western countries were the main allies of the rebels.
However, humanity had limits. Each country prioritized its own interests.
The main fuel for the deal was to release princes from the Qatari ruling family who were being held by the IRGC while they were on a wild hunting trip in Iraq in 2015.
The New York Times estimated in an investigation that the deal cost Qatar about $1 billion.
Iran, Iraq, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Al-Nusra, and the Ahrar al-Sham received dozens of millions of dollars to complete the deal, which took many months.
Deadly clashes later broke out between jihadists in northern Syria over the division of funds.
The deal was part of a similar secret deal held in Turkish Istanbul city between the same parties years ago with the aim of a cease-fire in the same besieged areas.
In general, reporting news of the deal was sensitive and dangerous in northern Syria.
Buses sent to evacuate the besieged Shiite fighters were burned 18 December 2016 and denied entry into Idlib many times.
Some news about the deal was reported to Al-Modon newspaper and Middle East Eye, and photos and other reports were taken of rebels fighters who were evacuated from Zabadani and Madaya cities to Idlib under the deal.
Photos of the burnt buses were taken by a Samsung S3 phone. Harun Al-Aswad’s camera was destroyed in an air attack in 2016.