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.”
While the French press persists in announcing the “imminent fall” of Syria and the “flight of Bashar al-Assad,” the reality on the ground has turned around completely. Even though chaos is plaguing most of the territory, the “liberated zones” have melted like snow in the sun. Deprived of its anchor points, the FSA has been left with no prospects in sight, while Washington and Moscow are poised to blow the whistle to end the game.
The countdown has begun. As soon as the new Obama administration will be confirmed by the Senate, it will present a peace plan for Syria to the Security Council. Legally, though President Obama succeeds himself, his former administration is only responsible for the managing of current affairs and can not take any major initiative. Politically, Obama failed to react when, in the midst of the presidential race, some of his colleagues torpedoed the Geneva Agreement. But he proceeded with a general housecleaning right after the announcement of his reelection. As expected, General David Petraeus, the architect of the war on Syria, fell into the trap that had been set up for him and was forced to resign. As expected, the NATO and Missile Shield chiefs – adverse to an agreement with Russia – have been put under investigation for corruption and obliged to remain silent. Also as expected, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been taken out of the game. Only the method chosen to eliminate her came as a surprise: a serious health accident that plunged her into a coma.
Meanwhile back at the UN, things have moved on. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) signed a Memorandum with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in September. In October, it monitored CSTO maneuvers in Kazakhstan simulating a deployment of “blue chapkas” in Syria. In December, the DPKO convened the military representatives of the permanent Security Council members to brief them on the manner in which the deployment could be carried out. Despite their opposition to this solution, the French and the British bowed to the wishes of the United States.
Nevertheless, France attempted to use the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Lakhdar Brahimi, to modify the Geneva peace plan in line with the objections it had raised on June 30th. Ultimately, Brahimi carefully refrained from taking a position, and instead contented himself with transmitting messages to and fro between the various parties to the conflict.
The truth is that on the ground the upper hand is held by the Syrian government. The military situation has been reversed. The French themselves have ceased to mention the “liberated zones” they yearned to govern through a United Nations mandate. These areas have been steadily shrinking, and those that are still holding out are in the hands of the disreputable Salafists. The FSA troops were instructed to abandon their positions and regroup around the capital for a final assault. The Contras were hoping to rally the Palestinian refugees, mainly Sunni Moslem, against the inter-denominational Syrian regime in the same manner that the Hariris in Lebanon tried to arouse the Sunni Palestinians of the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp against the Shiite Hezbollah. As in Lebanon this objective failed because the Palestinians know very well who their friends are and who is really fighting for the liberation of their land. Concretely, in Israel’s recent 8-day war on Gaza, it was the Iranian and Syrian weapons that saved the day, while the Gulf monarchies did not move a finger.
Certain elements of Hamas, loyal to Khaled Meshaal and funded by Qatar, opened the doors of the Yarmouk camp to a few hundred fighters of the Front to Protect the Levant (Syrian-Lebanese branch of Al-Qaeda), also related Qatar. They fought mainly against members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC). Via SMS, the Syrian government asked the 180 000 camp residents to evacuate the premises as soon as possible and offered them temporary accommodation in Damascus hotels, schools and gyms. Some preferred to go to Lebanon. The next day, the Syrian Arab army attacked the camp with heavy artillery and regained control. 14 Palestinian organizations then signed an agreement declaring the camp a “neutral zone“. The FSA fighters withdrew in an orderly fashion and resumed their war against Syria in the surrounding countryside, while the civilians returned to their homes. They found a devastated camp where schools and hospitals had been systematically destroyed.
In strategic terms, the war is already over: the FSA has lost the popular support it had enjoyed at one point and has no chance of achieving victory. The Europeans still think they can replace the regime by bribing top officials and causing a coup, but they realize that it will be impossible to bring off with the FSA. Contras continue to roll in, but the flow of money and weapons is drying up. Much of the international support has stopped although the consequences on the battlefield cannot yet be seen, much like a star that can continue to shine long after its death.
The United States has clearly decided to turn the page and to sacrifice the FSA. It gives it senseless instructions that lead the Contras to their death. Thousands were killed last month. Meanwhile, in Washington, the National Intelligence Council cynically announced that “international jihadism” will soon disappear. Other allies of the United States should now ask themselves whether this new equation does not imply that they too will be sacrificed.
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)