Tension returns to the already unstable relationship between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurdish Popular Protection Units in the countryside of Aleppo, following attempts by the FSA to raid Kurdish-controlled villages in the Afrin region.
The clashes in the Afrin region – between units of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Tawhid Brigade and Islamist and Kurdish groups supported by Ankara – resulted in the displacement of some villagers and the closure of the Afrin-Aleppo road.
Kurdish sources confirmed to Al-Akhbar that 14 members of the opposition units and two Kurdish fighters were killed over the weekend. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes caused the death of 11 rebel fighters and the injury of more than 20.
Reports on injuries and the clashes’ cause conflicted. In a statement, the Popular Protection Units (YPG) announced the deaths of 11 members of armed groups, including a battalion commander, and the injuring of 15 other fighters.
On the other hand, the Tawhid Brigade said that the “commander of Battalion 21″ was killed, as well as the commander of the Sayyid al-Shuhada al-Hamza, AKA Shamel. Dissident Kurdish captain Bioar Mustafa, commander of the Salaheddin Battalion fighting alongside the FSA against the YPG, was also injured.
The Tawhid Battalion accused one of the Kurdish checkpoints of “facilitating the passage of residents of Kfar Nebel,” which the FSA has put under siege.
The YPG, however, said in a statement that “FSA groups attacked the village of Aqiba in Nahiet Shirawa and the YPG responded to the attack.”
FSA units kidnapped two Kurdish citizens from the village of Bassila on the Aleppo-Afrin road. The Syrian army exploited the clashes between the two opposition groups. A source close to the FSA was reported saying that the regime’s forces sent military and logistical reinforcements to the besieged Ming Military Airport.
In the meantime, the Sheikh Said Piran battalions fighting alongside the FSA at the Ming Airport and some neighborhoods of Aleppo announced its “complete withdrawal from Aleppo and the beginning of a march to Afrin to defend it against the FSA.”
The Kurdish Front Brigade, which is close to the YPG despite fighting against the Syrian army alongside the FSA, announced that they are coordinating all their operations with the YPG. “They are with us in the same trench,” it said.
The YPG, however, maintained that the FSA’s attack “targets the entire Afrin region and was planned in advance.” Kurdish sources maintained that there is a plan by the FSA in the Aleppo countryside to attack the villages of Afrin and impose an economic siege.
However, this is not the first attempt by FSA groups in Aleppo to attack villages under the control of the Kurdish units. In this respect, a Kurdish source explained to Al-Akhbar that the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood “is a bigger threat to the Kurds from the entire Baathist doctrine.”
“But anytime the Brotherhood thinks about cleansing Aleppo or its countryside, they will find that the Kurds will be their biggest challenge,” he added.
“Despite the Brotherhood knowing that they are fighting a losing battle in Afrin, which will weaken and drain them, they seem to be pulled ideologically,” he said. “This cancels the pragmatic side.”
Qatar which has been a staunch supporter of the Free Syrian Army against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria is now looking to enroll Yemen’s military elite to fight alongside other Arab-backed militias in a bid to offset Assad’s recent advances against the opposition.
Yemen Republican Guards, Yemen’s best of the best, the very units which were meant to ward off former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s foes are now being bid for by foreign powers in a regional effort to depose Syria’s regime.
Faced with the very possibility that Assad could after all outrun his enemies, strong of the support of Iran and the Hezbollah and restore his hold over the country, the Free Syrian Army has turned to his sponsors for support, awaiting more troops and more weapons.
While regional powers have committed money and military equipment, as well as allowed volunteers to cross over onto Syria to swell the resistance ranks, none has so far agreed to commit men to the conflict, a move which would equate to a declaration of war against the Syrian regime.
Qatar is now looking to by-pass the hurdle by sending Yemen Republican Guards to the front. Of course the men would go in their civilian capacity, hired as mercenaries by the State of Qatar.
According to local newspapers, Qatar would be looking to enroll 10,000 soldiers.
Military officials have warned that such a move would leave Yemen vulnerable, its defenses weakened.
Iran has sent soldiers to Syria to fight alongside forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.
An unknown number of Iranians are fighting in Syria, the official said, citing accounts from members of the opposition Free Syrian Army, which is backed by the United States. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview a strategy session that Secretary of State John F. Kerry is to hold Wednesday with key supporters of the Syrian opposition.
The rationale for granting anonymity–a privilege that outlets are supposed to extend only rarely–is curious; it’s not clear why the government would need to say things anonymously in order “to preview a strategy session” about Syria.
Even more curious, though, is whether or not the source in question actually said this. At EA Worldview (5/22/13), Scott Lucas took a look at the briefing that produced the story, and what the State Department official actually said was this:
It is the most visible effort we have seen of Hezbollah to engage directly in the fighting in Syria as a foreign force. We understand there are also Iranians up there. That is what the Free Syrian Army commanders are telling us. I think this is an important thing to note, the direct implication of foreigners fighting on Syrian soil now for the regime.
Suggesting that the Free Syrian Army believes Iranians are in Syria–which is probably true–is not the same thing as saying “Iran has sent soldiers to Syria” to fight on Assad’s behalf. And in answering followup questions, the anonymous State Department official admits that “to be very frank, I don’t have any estimates of numbers and I don’t know that they are directly involved in the fighting.” The source also says the Iranians “could be doing a little of both advising and fighting” and that “the reports that we’re getting… are not consistent.”
But Gearan’s question at the briefing would strongly suggest that she was pushing a stronger line about Iranian involvement than the anonymous source:
Are we now, based on your earlier comments about Iranian fighters being involved, looking at a proxy war? I mean, you’re talking about arming the rebels on one side, and the Iranians are clearly arming the others and fighting on behalf of the others on the other side. Are we now basically in a war with Iran?
The source doesn’t go as far out on this issue as Gearan’s question was pushing. But it didn’t really matter. As you can see in the pages of the Washington Post, an official Iranian role in the fighting was treated almost like a fact–which might be the point of having anonymous briefings like this.
An Iranian deputy foreign minister has rejected claims about Tehran’s military presence in Syria, dismissing the allegations as a “blame game” orchestrated by the Syrian opposition groups.
“Iranian forces have never been, and are not present in Syria, and I deny this claim,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia-Pacific Affairs Abbas Araqchi said in Ankara on Thursday.
“The real enemies of Syria make such claims to provoke that country’s people [against Iran] and divert developments [in Syria] in the wrong direction,” said Araqchi, who is also Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman.
He emphasized that the crisis in Syria cannot be resolved through military means, adding that the unrest in the Arab country should be resolved politically. … Full article
Israel is one of several countries that maintain a significant intelligence presence inside Syria, according to the top commander of the Syrian rebel forces.
General Salim Idriss, Chief of Staff for the Free Syrian Army, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the Jewish state has “many, many” intelligence officers in various parts of Syria. The Arab country has been rocked since 2011 by a violent civil war, which has cost the lives of at least 60,000 people.
Idriss was responding to comments made earlier this week by Brigadier General Itai Brun, senior intelligence analyst for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Brun, who heads the Division for Research and Analysis of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, was speaking at a conference hosted in Tel Aviv, Israel, by the Institute for National Security Studies. He told an audience of intelligence experts that the IDF was “quite certain” that the Syrian government headed by President Bashar al-Assad had resorted to the use of chemical weapons against rebel forces on at least one instance.
According to Brun, footage obtained by the IDF of rebel casualties from a March 19 attack by Syrian government forces, pointed to the use of sarin nerve gas. He referred to evidence such as the victims’ dilated pupils and “the foam coming out of their mouths” as strong proof of the use of weaponized sarin nerve gas in the battlefield.
Responding to Brun’s allegations, General Idriss suggested that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons repeatedly in a variety of locations, including Aleppo, Homs, and the outskirts of capital Damascus. He added that rebel forces had collected “some samples of soil and blood” and surrendered it to outside “observers” of the civil war —though he refused to identify these observers. After some pressure from Amanpour, Idriss said it made sense for the IDF to know that sarin nerve gas had been used by the Syrian government, since Israel was one of several countries that had “many, many” intelligence officers inside Syria. Asked by Amanpour whether he was referring to Israeli covert-action agency Mossad, Idriss responded “yes”.
In response to Brun’s comments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday that Washington was “looking for conclusive evidence, if it exists, if there was use of chemical weapons”.
Syrian opposition is facing turmoil as the head of the opposition coalition Moaz al-Khatib resigned on Sunday and the so-called “Free Syrian Army” rejected the group’s appointment of an interim prime minister.
“I announce my resignation from the National Coalition, so that I can work with a freedom that cannot possibly be had in an official institution,” Khatib said in a statement published on Sunday on his Facebook page.
He had also objected to last week’s coalition appointment of American-educated businessman Ghassan Hitto as an interim prime minister for the areas controlled by the armed groups.
Shortly after Khatib announced his resignation, the so-called “Free Syrian Army” refused to recognize Hitto as prime minister, spokesman Louay al-Mekdad said.
Al-Mekdad told Western news agencies that Hitto was not properly elected because there was no consensus on his candidacy.
Other rebels have said they do not need a prime minister because they already are governing areas under their control. These moves left the US-backed efforts to forge a united front against the Syrian opposition in tatters.
“The coalition is on verge of disintegrating,” Amr al-Azm, a history professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio said.
There seems to be little doubt that an initiative launched last fall in the Qatari capital, Doha, to create an inclusive and representative opposition body is falling apart, added Azm.
Relatives and friends of the journalist said Kochneva managed to escape the building she was kept in, and hid from the pursuers in the mountains. She then had to walk about 15km before reaching Syrian army forces, and is now travelling to Damascus in safety.
Kochneva ironically wrote she’s “back from the Wonderland” in a short LiveJournal post, promising some further details later.
She also confirmed the details of her escape in two brief media interviews, saying the captors mistreated her, and she decided to run away for the fear that they would kill her and blame government forces for another death. Kochneva said she had to live in a cold room with a broken window, leaving her health in a terrible state.
Despite this, the journalist vowed to remain in Syria and continue to highlight the ongoing conflict.
“The world is just blind… I will definitely do everything for the people to discover, what is really going on here,” Kochneva told Business FM, saying Syria is “a friend in need”.
Anhar Kochneva, who had reported critically about the Syrian rebels for Russian and Ukrainian news outlets, was captured in the beginning of October 2012 near the city of Homs. The city, seen as the cradle of the Syrian revolution, has recently been going through frequent fighting outbursts, which Kochneva was following at the time of her capture.
The kidnappers, members of the Free Syrian Army, had repeatedly threatened to kill the journalist in December, if a US$50 million ransom was not paid. They later lowered the sum to reportedly $300,000, and announced they had “spared” Kochneva for the time being.
Kochneva’s relatives said they had been unaware of her fate since New Year, and accused the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry of being “inactive” and “ignoring the negotiation process.”
Syrian rebels, who had been in contact with the journalist’s former husband, also claimed that Ukrainian authorities were doing nothing. The rebels uploaded several videos of Kochneva last year, in which she admitted to having participated in the fighting, and of working as a military interpreter with Syrian and Russian officers.
International groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists, ARTICLE 19, the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders have questioned the objectivity of these videos, saying the journalist appeared to be speaking under pressure.
The groups urged the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Opposition Coalition to ensure that the journalist is safe and set free, and called for world governments to assist in her release.
The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine has said that it was taking all necessary measures to free the journalist and urged Damascus for “concrete results” in attempts to release her.
The ministry has confirmed on Monday that Kochneva is free, without elaborating on the circumstances of her escape.
A group of Syrian rebels have been holding Lebanese civilians hostage for nearly seven months. The kidnappers keep issuing new demands, claiming they have captured “subversives from the Lebanese Hezbollah party.”
The hostages’ relatives deny the charges, saying those captured are elderly and poor, have families and are generally apolitical. They also expressed frustration at how Western mass-media has only aired the kidnappers’ side of the story.
During this seven-month period, the hostages were allegedly ‘killed by Assad’s bombs,’ but then miraculously ‘rose from the dead.’ The conditions of their release have been continually changing: First, the kidnappers turned down a $50 million ransom; they then demanded the families demonstrate against Hezbollah, and asked Hezbollah chief Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah to apologize to the Syrian people; finally, they suggested bartering their hostages for an Al-Qaeda leader.
But at the heart of this cloak-and-dagger saga are clues to how the Syrian captors managed to demand a ransom of $50 million after proclaiming Ankhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian-Russian journalist of Palestinian descent, to be a spy for three different countries simultaneously.
A bargain bus tour hijacked
On May 22, 2012, a group of Lebanese pilgrims on a bus were returning to Beirut from Mashhad, a city in northeastern Iran. Syria was relatively peaceful at the time. Some of the passengers were accompanied by their wives and daughters; one young man was chaperoning his elderly aunt.
In Aleppo province, their bus was stopped by a group of Syrian rebels who then abducted the passengers, claiming they were Hezbollah subversives who had illegally crossed the Syrian border.
The following passengers of the bus remain in captivity:
Ali Skheb, 63: Physically impaired, suffers from heart failure.
Jamil Saleh, 65: Spent the last 30 years working for Saad Hariri, known to be a major supporter of the Syrian rebels. Suffers from epilepsy and is prone to fainting fits. Recently underwent surgery for a spinal disc herniation.
Ali Abbas, 30: Owner of a hookah shop, who supports both himself and his younger brother. The brothers are parentless as well as homeless, and use their shop as living quarters. Ali suffers from epilepsy.
Hassan Arzune, 56: A street vendor who peddles sweets for Ramadan and owns a shop with a floor area of 1.5 sq. meters.
Hassan Hammud, 45: Painter and floor waxer, the proud owner of an antique stone-floor polisher that consists of an iron frame and a water tank. The kidnappers believe Hassan to be a specially trained sabotage and demolitions expert.
Muhammad Monzer, 22: Gas station attendant who borrowed money for the trip in order to accompany an elderly aunt, who dreamed of taking a pilgrimage.
Abbas Shuyab, 41: Pilgrimage broker who organizes bus tours to Iraq and Iran.
Abbas Hammod, 60: Retired Lebanese Army soldier, suffers from neurological disorders.
Ali Termos, 50: Works as a salesman in a small grocery shop.
It is possible the Syrian opposition is unable to distinguish either insurgents or rank-and-file Hezbollah party activists just from their outward appearances. However, few in Lebanon believes that the hostages are members of Hezbollah.
The kidnappers did their best to comply with the rules of Islam: They immediately released all the women – including wives, daughters and the aunt – and allowed those abducted to pray and fast freely.
The captors went as far as agreeing to a meeting between the hostages and two of their family members, who were allowed to make a video on how well the kidnappers were treating the abductees. In the footage, they were shown to be wearing casual clothes and sitting on sofas in broad daylight. They even released two hostages who appeared to be in bad health.
During the first month they ate canned tuna, boiled eggs on the second and chickpeas on the third. Later, their diet slightly improved.
The remaining captives are now confined a room with no windows.
Towards the end of Ramadan, online sources reported that Oqab Saqr, a Lebanese MP from the Hariri bloc, had allegedly received $50 million from Saudi Arabia to pay as ransom for the hostages. Mona Termos, the wife of one of the prisoners, went to the Saudi embassy to find out if the rumors were true.
“On that very day Abbas Nasr, an Al Jazeera correspondent, called me only to yell that I was to blame for disrupting a mission to release the prisoners,” Termos said. “Later, he came and said that I must go live on air to disprove that news. But I said it is up to the ambassador to do it.”
Three days later, the events took a new turn: “We were told that the location had been bombed, leaving four people dead, including my husband! Then the Lebanese Foreign Ministry started an inquiry, and the families took to the streets – and that’s when that information was refuted. Did they rise from the dead?” she said.
And two days after that, the kidnappers’ leader Abu Ibrahim confirmed to NewTV channel that he had been offered the $50 million. “Yes, they did offer $50 million but I refused to take it. It is a matter of principle rather than money,” NewTV quoted him as saying.
Ibrahim now communicates regularly with the media, which interviews him through Skype and the telephone, and even dispatches film crews from New York to record his statements.
Ibrahim’s first demand was for the release of the Lebanese hostages in exchange for Hussein Harmoush, an army defector and one of the founders of the rebel Free Syrian Army. He then demanded that Hezbollah chief Nasrallah apologize to the Syrian people and publicly support the rebels. Currently, there is no evidence suggesting that the pilgrims are connected to Hezbollah.
Ibrahim then called on the families to rally against Hezbollah in front of Beirut’s Syrian and Iranian embassies. The families fulfilled the demand, rallying at the embassies and writing letters to ambassadors. The Iranian embassy’s workers told them that 48 Iranian pilgrims were being held in a similar situation: They were abducted by Syrian rebels under the pretext that they were members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards corps.
Nasrallah then addressed Lebanon, expressing support for the Syrian people and asking them to demonstrate what shape that support should take.
Those kidnapped are occasionally allowed to call their families with a cell phone that has a Turkish number. Those who were freed from captivity and their visitors claim that the building where hostages are held is within sight of the Turkish border.
“The Turkish authorities could’ve easily found them. But they insist that they’ve no idea where the hostages are held. How do journalists find them then? They all get there across the Turkish border,” the relatives said.
A week ago, Ibrahim made a new demand to the relatives, asking them to rally to free both Hussein Harmoush and Syrian opposition member Tal al-Mallohi.
The families of the hostages expressed frustration at Ibrahim’s apparent hypocrisy in his attempts to free political prisoners. “Nobody should be imprisoned for his or her views, the more so women. Abu Ibrahim, you are committing the same deeds you say yourself you are against! How can I trust the Syrian revolution if you deprive innocent people of their freedom?” the pilgrims’ wives said. Western media have yet to report on their remarks.
NYT journalists traveled to Syria to investigate the hostage-taking and managed to make their way to Ibrahim, but did not contact the captives’ wives and daughters in Beirut. One of the journalists did eventually call the family of the hostages – not to interview them, but to inform them about a video published on the newspaper’s website containing new conditions for the hostages’ release. The relatives were told that the captors are now demanding that 200 political prisoners, including an Al-Qaeda leader from Jordan, be released from Lebanon’s prisons.
“Through a US newspaper they are demanding a release of an Al-Qaeda leader? And to release political prisoners in the Lebanon? But there are none in Lebanon!” the hostages’ family members said. “We are free to say whatever we want, and nobody will pay any attention to that. There are criminals, drug dealers, but no political prisoners. Everybody knows that.”
Abu Ibrahim has promised to clarify the demands, and to fax the names of the two prisoners that will be transferred to Lebanese authorities.
That message has yet to arrive.
NGOs are urging Syrian rebels to release a Ukrainian journalist, Anhar Kochneva, who is set to be executed Thursday. Meanwhile the group behind the kidnapping warned it would now target all Russians, Ukrainians and Iranians on Syrian soil.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), ARTICLE 19, the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders issued a joint statement expressing deep concern about Kochneva’s life and urging the leadership of the Free Syrian Army and of the Syrian Opposition Coalition to ensure that the journalist is safe and set free.
The groups also called on the French, British and US governments, as well as the European Union to work with the Syrian opposition to facilitate her release.
Kochneva, who has reported critically about the Syrian rebels for Russian and Ukrainian news outlets, was captured in the beginning of October near the restive city of Homs. The kidnappers, allegedly members of the Free Syrian Army, threatened to kill her on December 13 if a US$ 50 million ransom is not paid.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian authorities urged Damascus to work more actively to help free the journalist. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Aleksandr Dikusarov said that Kiev expects “concrete results” in attempts to release her.
In response to the Ukrainian demands, Kochneva’s kidnappers posted a video in which they threatened to target the embassies of Ukraine, Russia, as well as all Russians, Ukrainians and Iranians in Syria.
“We urge not to let a single Russian, Ukrainian or Iranian alive out of Syria,” the rebels said in the video, aired by Ukrainian news channel Ukraina.
The rebels label Kochneva a spy, claiming that she was carrying arms and worked as an interpreter for the Russian officers.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry did not issue comment on the latest video, saying its authenticity cannot be verified, according to Ukraina news channel.
A month after the kidnapping, a video message from Kochneva was published online in which she appealed to the Embassies of Ukraine and Russia, as well as the Syrian government, to meet the demands of the kidnappers.
On the 28 November, in the second video, Kochneva read a text in Arabic admitting to having participated in the fighting, working as a military interpreter with Syrian and Russian officers.
CPJ, ARTICLE 19, the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders doubt the objectiveness of these videos. “We are deeply concerned that in both video appeals the journalist seems to be speaking under pressure,” they said in their statement released on Wednesday.
By Yusuf Fernandez | Al-Manar | December 10, 2012
The Syrian and foreign rebels, who are conducting operations in several provinces of Syria, have once again tried to expand their field of action to the capital, Damascus, but they have failed to do so despite support from Western and Arab media, which always refers to any one-time or limited rebel success as though it was final and definitive. This media and the insurgent propaganda try to persuade the world, and especially the Qatari and Saudi sponsors of the armed groups, that the rebellion is booming.
Most Western media uncritically reproduces statements made by the pro-rebellion London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) as though they were proven facts. In recent days, the SOHR has suggested that Damascus is (once again) about to fall.
The Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram even claimed that “the inhabitants of the Syrian capital Damascus… are subjected to brutal attacks from military positions on the outskirts and Mount Qasiun overlooking the city”. Claims like this one sought to make the public believe that the rebels were already controlling a part of the city. The newspaper also repeated the rebels´ propaganda as a parrot: “The revolutionaries say that their advance on Damascus will trigger a mutiny by the army against its commanders. They hope that thousands will also defect from the regular army and argue that the establishment of a no-fly zone in the country would automatically bring this about.”
Friday November 16th was dubbed by the armed bands the “Friday of the Advance on Damascus”, indicating a “decisive battle” with the regime. They prepared their offensive and several groups arrived in the Damascus province from several places in Syria, such as Deraa and Deir Ezzor. It is, therefore, clear that the rebels attempted in November their most important effort against the capital since their failure of the summer. But this offensive, like the previous one, appears to have been thwarted.
Despite the Free Syrian Army (FSA)´s operations in some towns of Damascus province, this group has at no time been able to enter the city. There have been clashes in the town of Daraya (South-West of the capital), the agricultural region of the Ghouta and the International Airport area (East). For the rebels, it was especially important to capture Daraya because of its strategic position: it oversees the important military airport of Mazzé.
The army´s counter-offensive
On November 29th, the Syrian army launched a vast operation of cleaning these areas within a radius of 5 to 12 miles around the capital. They had already been cleaned last August, but the destruction of armed bands in a densely-inhabited zone is not an easy task.
The newspaper al-Watan announced on December 2nd an army offensive against the places where terrorists had gathered together. “The Syrian army has opened since Thursday morning the gates of hell to all those who were thinking about approaching Damascus or launching an attack against the capital”, wrote the newspaper. It added that the government forces had inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels in several towns and villages.
After some days of offensive, the village of Daraya is now in the hands of the army. The town of Harasta, emptied of its inhabitants since it was invaded by the FSA, is also under the control of government forces while pockets of rebels remain in the nearby village of Duma.
In Ghouta, in the East, where the battle was at its peak this week around the International Airport, informed sources ensure that the airport and its surroundings have been secured, but gunfire can still be heard in distant regions. In the Sayyeda Zainab area, clashes persist between the pro-government militias protecting the district and armed groups holed up in the zone.
According to the Lebanese channel al-Mayadeen, which quoted a Syrian security official, the most violent combat took place on December 3rd. The site Syria Truth advanced the figure of 500 militiamen killed in the first four days of the army´s counter-offensive, including 40 in Deir al-Assafir, 30 in Nina al-Awamid, 60 in Shaba, 100 near the airport and 200 in the sector of Daraya. Al-Watan spoke of “hundreds of terrorists” killed in these days. On the other hand, the Syrian Air Force, indifferent to the threat of the fifty or so American surface-to-air missiles that the rebels hold, continues its attacks on the rebel positions every day.
On the other hand, the limited strength of the rebels in the Damascus province, where they are only a few thousands, make them structurally unable to seriously threaten a city of more than two million inhabitants, where the government is, for obvious reasons, particularly powerful. Rebel advances are always precarious and the armed bands cannot resist the counter-attacks of the army and the militias fighting alongside with it. In this context, the new rebel offensive on Damascus is already becoming another resounding failure.
TEHRAN — The practice of taking hostages is a serious crime that violates all accepted humanitarian principles.
The kidnapping of 48 Iranian nationals in Damascus in early August by an armed terrorist group is a clear example of this issue.
Senior commanders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have repeatedly declared that they will free the Iranian nationals if the Iranian government uses its influence over Damascus to obtain the release of jailed rebels. The fact that the FSA is trying to take advantage of the friendly relations between Iran and Syria is nothing new. However, the group must understand that the rebel prisoners are being detained by the Syrian government and the authority to release them is in the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not Iran.
The FSA has claimed that it is fighting for democracy and the establishment of a free and humanitarian society. However, the threats to kill the Iranian citizens have clearly revealed the true nature of the group to the Syrian people. What would the fate of Syria be if it came under the rule of such terrorists?
Certain Western governments and their regional proxies, namely Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, continue to support the FSA and other opposition groups in Syria. Iran is strongly opposed to the policy adopted by these governments and regards it as the main cause of the intensification of violence in Syria. However, the Iranian government should engage in talks with these governments to obtain the release of the hostages.
Even if the FSA kills the Iranian nationals, it will have no effect on the friendly relations between Iran and Syria. But it would seriously harm diplomatic relations between Iran and the three governments supporting the insurgency in Syria. And if the hostages are killed, it would encourage terrorist groups in other countries to use the same methods to realize their malevolent objectives.
Sabah Zanganeh is a political analyst based in Tehran.
- Majority in Turkey against war with Syria: Opinion poll (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- FSA threaten to kill Iranian hostages if rebels not freed (rt.com)
Ankara – It would seem to be quite simple. All that has to happen for the fighting to end in Syria is for those with guns in their hands to put them down. So why isn’t it happening?
Again the answer is simple and not just seemingly. Outside governments supporting the armed groups do not want them to put their weapons down. It has been deliberately locked into a cycle of violence which its enemies hope will end in its destruction. This strategy is the prime cause of the death and devastation over which the sponsors of this violence have been wringing their hands before the UN General Assembly.
Agendas vary slightly but the prime goal of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the governments of the US, Britain and France is not political reform but the destruction of Iran’s best friend in the region. Syria is the central arch in a strategic relationship between Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. The fall of that central arch would give western governments one of their greatest strategic victories in the modern history of the Middle East.
Syria is frequently described as collapsing or bleeding or plunging into ‘civil war’. None is correct. Syria is being collapsed, being bled and being plunged into devastation as the direct consequence of decisions taken outside Syria. The collective calling itself ‘The Friends of the Syrian People’ has deliberately brought Syria to where it is now. There are no small mercies in this situation but it could have been even worse, if these ‘friends’ had been able to launch an aerial assault under the aegis of the Security Council. Had Russia and China not blocked them, Syria would be now be a total ruin, with an infinitely greater number of dead than the 20,000 or so already killed. Their fallback position was the war of attrition being waged by their armed protégés.
Few countries could withstand the battering Syria has taken in the past 18 months. In the name of ‘regime change’ horror has followed horror. Aleppo has been turned into a replica of Beirut at the height of the civil war, with a large part of the medieval souk now burnt to the ground. Yet the government has not collapsed and neither has the army disintegrated. The message from this is that Syria has a government and not a ‘regime’ and an army – in which the ordinary soldiers are mostly Sunni Muslim – and not ‘Assad loyalists’.
Military defections have been few. So have defections from the ranks of government despite the large amounts of money on offer. Foreign Minister Walid Muallim was offered $100 million by the ruler of Qatar if he would defect but turned it down and went public with the bribe. One of the last known of cases was the $20,000 a month for the next 20 years and a home in Doha offered to the Syrian consul in Mauritania. He also refused. Bashar al Assad was totally correct when he said a few days ago that the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar think they can buy anyone. If there is anywhere where ‘regime change’ is needed it is surely in these gulf states.
One of the last defectors was the head of security in Aleppo. Before his departure and untimely end (he was assassinated a few kilometers short of the Turkish border by persons unknown) he had arranged for the infiltration of thousands of jihadis into the city. Many are not even Syrian. They have come to fight the jihad from all corners of the Muslim world. There are Chechens, Afghans, Pakistanis, Tajiks, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans (lots of Libyans), Saudis and Iraqis. Aleppo has been targeted because it is close to the Turkish border, and the hope is that it can be turned into a ‘rebel’ capital in a ‘liberated’ zone stretching up to the Turkish border. This could be done only over the dead bodies and against the wishes of the people of the city.
Whether inside the cells fighting in the name of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) or operating independently, the salafi jihadis inside Syria are tactically cooperating against the common enemy. The FSA is little more than a convenient trademark. Most of the armed groups have their own command structure and take no notice of the FSA. Recently Riad al Assad crossed the border from Turkey to direct the struggle from inside Syria, only to stay a day and a night before going back because there was no point in him staying. The political arm of the FSA is the so-called Syrian National Council, touted as an alternative government but dysfunctional from the start and now recognized as such even by its sponsors. Put these two hard realities together and you have the formula for complete chaos. There is no alternative government in sight. There is no rational end in sight. The armed groups cannot overthrow the government without the direct intervention of their outside sponsors and that possibility seems to be receding although Qatar is still trying to talk it up. All that lies ahead of Syria unless the violence can be ended and negotiations begun is more chaos, more destruction and more loss of life.
Not that chaos is to be discarded as an end in itself. It will take Syria decades to recover from the damage already done whoever governs in Damascus. If the decision is finally taken to attack Iran, Syria would probably be too stricken to come to its aid even if the government has not been overthrown; if Syria cannot help, then Hezbollah might have to stay on the sidelines as well, releasing Israel from the fear of a second front opening in the north. This is how the governments orchestrating the campaign against Syria want the dominoes to fall. The implications for the Palestinians are clear. Any gain for Israel is a loss for them and the overthrow of the Syrian government, followed by the collapse of the strategic relationship between Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, would be an enormous gain for Israel, releasing pressure on one front and giving it more time to complete its absorption of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
What most Syrians want is to be left alone to sort out their own affairs. They want change but not at any cost. They don’t want the west sticking its nose in their affairs and they don’t want armed gangs running amok in their country. The west might have forgotten its own bloody record in the Middle East dating back to the beginning of the 19th century but Syrians have not. They know how disastrously western intervention always ends in the Middle East. Heads of governments who have been fueling the armed opposition have been lining up at the UN General Assembly to call for an end to the violence. If they mean what they say, they would be throwing their weight behind the attempts of the non-violent domestic opposition to bring a mediated end to this conflict. But they don’t and therefore must be seen for what they are – hypocrites who are pushing their own agenda at massive cost to Syria and its people.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
- ‘West wants end of Syria as a functioning independent state’ (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Syrian insurgency will never win its war because its means are unsupported even among the opposition, political analyst Dan Glazebrook told RT. But thanks to a flood of weapons from the West, they will continue to destabilize the country.
Syria, Glazebrook says, is the only link keeping Western powers from dominating the region, which is why the anti-Assad coalition is sending weapons and funding the “proxy war” through Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Western governments, he says, support the rebels because once Syria falls, they hope to “roll out the program of a final solution” for the Palestinians, Southern Lebanon and Iran.
RT: Russia has reiterated calls for what it calls a balanced solution to the Syrian conflict – why aren’t more countries supporting Moscow’s proposals?
Dan Glazebrook: Well, it is a good question. In fact it is not only Moscow that is making these proposals. A week ago in Damascus, the National Coordination Committee, which is the main organization behind the initial outbreak of peaceful protests in Syria, actually had their own conference where they also called for a cease fire on both sides. They’ve criticized the militarization of the conflict. They’ve criticized the countries that have been arming the rebels.
We see how the Western-trained and sponsored militia on the ground in Syria has responded. They’ve responded with a wave of bomb attacks over two days in Damascus. The crucial point is that the West does not want to see a peaceful resolution to this conflict. It wants to destabilize, that is the name of the game. They do not want a peaceful resolution.
They don’t want any compromise, because what are their main strategic aims? Remember, their main strategic aim is to destroy Syria as a functioning independent state, because at the moment Syria is part of the alliance with Iran and Hezbollah. Now, Hezbollah’s independent existence, which was shown by Hezbollah’s defeat of Israel in 2006, that is the one thing protecting the Palestinians from Israel just unilaterally imposing some kind of once-and-for-all ‘peace deals’ on the Palestinians that would condemn them forever to living in little cantons in a sea of Israeli settlements – the one thing preventing Israel from doing that is the existence of Hezbollah, the arming of Hezbollah by Iran and Syria. Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah himself, said that Syria was crucial in the 2006 victory by Hezbollah against Israel.
So the West is determined to keep this war going, to destabilize Syria, to make sure that they cannot any longer play the role that it has been playing in supporting the Palestinians and preventing a successful Israeli attack on the Palestinians, on Lebanon and on Iran. Once Syria falls, the hope is for the West and for the Zionists that they will then have a free hand to go and implement, to go ahead and roll out, that program of a final solution for the Palestinians, destruction of Southern Lebanon, destruction of Iran. Syria is a kind of link that so far is preventing that. They do not want a peaceful solution.
RT: With Washington now pledging $45 million worth of extra support to the rebels, how much longer can the opposition keep up the fight without direct foreign intervention?
DZ: We have to get over the idea that there is no foreign direct intervention. There is a foreign direct intervention already now – and there has been for many, many months. There were groups on the ground calling themselves part of the Free Syrian Army, but there are entire units made up of Libyans, of Lebanese, of people from Jordan, of people from Saudi Arabia. They have been armed and also equipped and trained by the SAS and by the CIA, at camps in Turkey.
In fact if the situation in Libya – the war in Libya last year – is anything to go on, from what we know happened there, they were probably under the direct command of British and US Army officers. So I do not think it’s true to say that the current situation is one without direct foreign intervention.
The other thing to bear in mind, the $45 million of aid from the US is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the weapons and the funding for the West’s proxy war against Syria is being channeled through Saudi Arabia and through Qatar. Now, just Britain alone for example, last year provided £1.75 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, and much of it is now ending up in the hands of these proxy militias. So that $45 million figure is actually just the tip of the iceberg.
And it is very tricky that the US and Britain, and Britain in particular, often says it is just providing non-lethal equipment: communications equipment, night vision goggles, this kind of thing. But it is providing weapons, but it’s just doing it through third parties.
The question of how long this war can go on is a good question. It is not clear. They can’t really win these rebel groups, because they don’t have the support of even most of the anti-Assad forces. As I have mentioned, the main peaceful opposition group does not really support the strategy of the Free Syrian Army, does not support the Syrian National Council and in the key cities of Aleppo and Damascus, which is where more than half of the Syrian population live. Most of the population is behind the government, supports the government. A couple of weeks ago, a Free Syrian Army Officer admitted it himself, saying that ‘the problem for us here in Aleppo is that 70 per cent of the population supports Assad,’ and it has always been that way. So they can’t win with that lack of popular support.
Unfortunately, because they’re getting this huge flood of weapons from the outside, they can continue to destabilize. That is, unfortunately, they may be able to keep the war going for some time. It does not mean that they’re actually going to be able to win.
- Syrian opposition provokes Hezbollah (english.ruvr.ru)