Posted by Joshua on Sunday, October 14th, 2012
Artillery fire between Syria and Turkey has further raised the stakes, and NATO has pledged to defend its Turkish ally. NPR’s Peter Kenyon, Joshua Landis, and Soner Cagaptay of The Washington Institute discuss the broader implications. listen
Syria’s Islamist rebels join forces against Assad [The most important article on the month]
By Mariam Karouny – Reuters
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Powerful Syrian Islamist brigades, frustrated at the growing divisions among rebels, have joined forces in what they say is a “liberation front” to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
Mistrust and miscommunication have been a feature of the rebel campaign against Assad. Differences over leadership, tactics and sources of funding have widened the rifts between largely autonomous brigades scattered across Syria.
After more than a month of secret meetings, leaders of Islamist brigades – including the Farooq Brigade that operates mainly in Homs province and the heavyweight Sukour al-Sham brigade of Idlib – formed the “Front to Liberate Syria”.
The agreement is not the first which seeks to bring together disparate fighting groups and its Islamist emphasis has already alienated some other fighters.
The growing role of the Islamist fighters and their battlefield prowess has also caused concern among Western powers as they weigh up how best to support the opposition forces arrayed against Assad.
The new front does not include some groups which Western officials consider the most radical such as the Nusra Front, an affiliate of al Qaeda which has claimed responsibility for a series of devastating bombs in Damascus and Aleppo.
Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafist group which includes a large contingent of foreign fighters, withdrew, objecting to the killing of a Salafist leader killed by a rival rebel force.
But rebel sources said talks were continuing to bring Ahrar al-Sham back, and leader of the new front, Ahmad al-Sheikh, said it was continuing to attract members.
“We have more than 40,000 fighters now and the numbers are growing because more brigades are expressing interest in joining,” said Sheikh, known to his men as Abu Eissa.
Accurate figures for the total rebel numbers are hard to establish but such a force could represent around half of Assad’s armed opponents.
Originally the group was called the Islamic Front to Liberate Syria. Brigade leaders voted to drop the word ‘Islamic’ but Islam remains a central element, Sheikh told Reuters.
“We are proud of our Islamism and we are Islamists. But we do not want to show it in a slogan because we might not live up to the responsibility of Islam,” said Sheikh, who is also the head of the Sukour al-Sham Brigades. “But we want a state with Islamic reference and we are calling for it.”
Brigades in Damascus, Deir al-Zor, Aleppo, Idlib and Homs provinces have joined the front and logistical offices have been opened across Syria to facilitate coordination, Sheikh said.
Since its formation, the front’s fighters have been focused on attacking checkpoints as part of their attempt to push Assad’s forces out of towns.
On Tuesday fighters from the Sukour al-Sham (Hawks of Syria) seized the town of Maarat al Nuaman in Idlib province from government forces….
But the move which is supposed to unite the rebels has also widened the rifts. Some in the FSA denounced the front and said that the emphasis on Islamic identity would worry minorities in the religiously mixed country.
Some fighters also said the group receives funding from Gulf states which promote the same Islamist ideology – a reference to Saudi Arabia and Qatar – and also has better access to weapons coming through Turkey.
They accused them of denying some of those arms to rebels from smaller groups fighting alongside them.
“We are fighting and getting killed but some do not even bother helping us. They just watch us as if we are not on the same front,” said a fighter in a brigade composed of less than 500 insurgents.
Sheikh said his front would maintain “brotherly relations” with all groups but fell short of offering support.
“Whoever wants to work with us is a brother and a son of the front and whoever wants to work under other wings in the interest of the revolution is also a brother for us. But the others who are in the camps (in Turkey), they do not have any acceptance among us.”
Islamic militants help seize missile base in Syria
By Ben Hubbard and Zeina Karam, Wash Post: October 13
BEIRUT — Fighters from a shadowy militant group with suspected links to al-Qaeda joined Syrian rebels in seizing a government missile-defense base in northern Syria on Friday, according to activists and amateur video.
It was unclear whether the rebels were able to hold the base after the attack, and analysts questioned whether they would be able to make use of any of the missiles they might have taken.
Nevertheless, the assault underscored fears of advanced weaponry falling into the hands of extremists, whose role in Syria’s civil war appears to be increasing.
Videos purportedly shot inside the base and posted online stated that the extremist group Jabhat al-Nusra participated in the overnight battle near the village of al-Taaneh, three miles east of the country’s largest city, Aleppo. The videos show dozens of fighters inside the base near a radar tower, along with rows of large missiles, some on the backs of trucks.
A report by a correspondent with the Arabic satellite network al-Jazeera who visited the base Friday said Jabhat al-Nusra led the attack, killing three guards and taking others prisoner before seizing the base….
Syria despatch: rebel fighters fear the growing influence of their ‘Bin Laden’ faction
The growing strength of Islamists in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad is alarming Syria’s secular opposition, reports Ruth Sherlock
By Ruth Sherlock, Idlib province, 13 Oct 2012, Telegraph
The Sunday Telegraph accompanied the head of the Free Syrian Army Supreme Military Council, General Mustafa al-Sheikh as he moved the FSA’s command centre from Turkey to inside Syria. They travelled nervously through Idlib’s countryside, in cars with blacked out windows, heavily armed, and with their rifles locked and loaded.
“It’s not because of the regime that we are carrying weapons. It’s because we are afraid of being attacked by the jihadists,” an FSA rebel later admitted. ..
Even before President Bashar al-Assad has been defeated, a war within the civil war is brewing in Syria. It is a battle of ideas, a struggle for the overall direction of the insurgency that is pitting moderate-Muslims against Salafists, jihadists and other Islamist groups.
Syria’s most powerful Islamist brigades have united under a new “liberation front” to wage jihad against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and turn the country into an Islamic state….
Secular rebel commanders also revealed that they are working to cut the supply lines of jihadist groups, and limit the influx of foreign fighters to their ranks.
“We watch the borders. If we find supplies entering for [jihadist groups] we will take them,” said one secular FSA fighter. “We have also caught 25 foreign fighters trying to cross from Turkey. We gave them to the Turkish intelligence.”
But moderates aligned with Gen al-Shiekh’s men are suffering from a lack of credibility. Rebel commanders on the front lines have praised the battlefield prowess of Islamists – many of who learnt to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan – and are angered that the head of the Free Syrian Army was based in Turkey for so long, saying it stripped him of any legitimacy among fighters who were dying inside the country.
“We are tired of paper tigers outside the country who have no link to the battlefield,” said Abu Eissa, whose 16-year-old eldest son was killed in fighting in Idlib six months ago.
Can FSA leadership be relevant again in Syria?
By Daniel DePetris, Special to CNN, an independent researcher.
For the first time since the Syrian rebellion began, the leadership of the opposition Free Syrian Army is making a concerted effort to unify the dozens of armed factions fighting under its name. The announcement by Colonel Riad al-Asaad, leader of the Free Syrian Army, that the FSA will be relocating its staff headquarters inside of Syrian territory is widely seen as a step in the right direction. Whether the move will make any practical difference in the fight, however, remains to be seen.
Al-Asaad was once a mid-level commander in the Syrian military, but his defection last year, and his attempt to form a band of former soldiers willing to fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, steadily changed the nature of the conflict. He is often considered by Syrian activists and deserters to be the first really high-ranking commander to flee the Syrian army in protest over the crackdown, and his actions appear to have inspired thousands of conscripts to follow in his footsteps: the FSA now includes more than two dozen former Syrian generals……It seems highly doubtful that moving its headquarters from Turkey to Syria will resolve any of these dilemmas for the FSA.
Yamin (A Christian whose family is originally from Raqqa) writes:
” The Baath took some land from us too and we were not big landholders. We however forgave. Old landowners are starting to feel that they now have a chance to recover their confiscated land, which they describe as “stolen land”. (See an article by Rania Abouzeid in Raqqa Province in Time Magazine dated October 10, 2012, titled “Who will the Tribes Back in Syria’s Civil War?”.)
This is why most of the people of Raqqa Province and other provinces in Syria, who acquired land in the 1960s, have been concerned about the aftermath of the Syrian Revolution. Tribal heads lost the most, as they claimed wide uncontested areas without documentation or title deeds. It was like claiming land in the desert or in the ocean, when it should have been communal tribal land. Large areas in Syria were claimed that way by powerful chieftains, and Nasser and the Baath took the land from feudal groups and gave it to the peasants and tribesmen.
This is why the peasants and tribesmen backed Hafiz Assad in the early 1980s when he crushed the Moslem Brotherhood rebellion. They considered the Moslem Brotherhood the army of the landholders. To the many who benefited from Baathist land reforms, Hafiz Assad was a savior. But that was in the past and today they have rebelled against his son. If this matter escalates it may split the Syrian Revolution…..
I forgot to mention that the people of Raqqa Province always treated the Christians well. They trusted us Christians, almost like brothers, and we reciprocated.
The industrialist Christians of the Jazirah, who hailed from Turkey before Ataturk expelled them and fled to Qamishli, Hassakeh, Derbassieh, Amuda, Ras Al-Ain, were among the first to open the Jezzera land to wheat and barley farming in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Bedouins who had settled in Raqqa some 30 years earlier paid in land for the services of the Christians who knew about mechanized farming and who were importing the pumps, piping, and tractors to the region. The Christians still own thousands of acres in the Raqqa province.
My father had a head-on collision accident at midnight near Dyar Al-Zor in 1965. Four people were killed and many blamed my father. By coincidence the three dead from the other car were from our Syriac Catholic Church in Qamishli. One of our Raqqa neighbors was in the passenger seat next to my father. He died. My father was never the same. He spent months in the hospital being repaired, but emotionally, his convalescence took years. My father cared for the neighbor’s family for years, and they appreciated it. They never sued or threatened to sue. The family of the other three sued and it was settled through our Church years afterward.
God protect the people of Raqqa.
Syrian writer Samar Yazbek: ‘A woman like me makes life difficult’
Aida Edemariam, The Guardian,
Syrian novelist Samar Yazbek was born into a wealthy Alawite family, but became ‘a traitor to her kind’ to fight the Assad regime. Her latest work is a visceral, nightmarish account of the revolution that drove her into exile…
She says that Syrian women have the best conditions in the Middle East after Tunisia. But “it seemed that when Hafez al-Assad was president he was accomplishing reforms, but in reality, in profound ways, it was getting worse, going backward.” And things did not improve under his son, Bashar.
“The real revolution will begin after the fall of Assad,” she says. “Then we will have a feminist revolution to construct a new life, a new education, build a new society.” But aren’t you afraid of unintended consequences? Of the influx of Islamists, or of mirroring Egypt and Libya? “If we are afraid of the religious impact, we need to work from now to help in the revolution, to be able, after, to rebuild.”…
John Howard Wilhelm writes:
The Israelis would be wise as they pause for thought on bombing Iran to go after the Syrian air force instead. Surely the Israelis have the capacity to destroy that air force and bring about a swifter outcome to the fighting in Syria to the advantage of the Syrian people, of regional stability, and of undermining Iranian influence in the region to the benefit of all. Regime change in Damascus might even hasten regime change in Tehran which, with the exception of the current leaders there, would be the best outcome for others.
Nick Blanford in Hezbollah role in Syria grows more evident- describes how Shiites and Sunnis in the Bekaa support different sides of the Syrian revolution and eye each other warily.
Iran’s Tumbling Rial Undermines Its Support of Syria’s Economy
Ibrahim Saif , Tuesday, October 9, 2012, Carnegie
The latest slide in the value of the rial has surprised many in its severity and speed. There is now a growing concern that it will have severe ramifications for Iran’s regional allies, including Syria.
Winter is coming, and with it the near certainty that the lot of millions of suffering Syrians will get substantially worse. Some 335,000 and counting find themselves in refugee camps in neighboring Turkey and Jordan, the lucky among them in pre …
Two forgotten dimensions to the Syrian conflict
Jonas Bergan Dræge , 11 October 2012
Two other fault lines, unrelated to the sectarian issue, need to be taken into account in order to understand the multi-dimensional Syrian conflict.
October 11, 2012 Lindsay Gifford – Sada
Syria, Turkey, Israel and the Greater Middle East Energy War
By F. William Engdahl, Global Research, October 11, 2012
On October 3, 2012 the Turkish military launched repeated mortar shellings inside Syrian territory. The military action, which was used by the Turkish military, conveniently, to establish a ten-kilometer wide no-man’s land “buffer zone” inside Syria, was in response to the alleged killing by Syrian armed forces of several Turkish civilians along the border.
There is widespread speculation that the one Syrian mortar that killed five Turkish civilians well might have been fired by Turkish-backed opposition forces intent on giving Turkey a pretext to move militarily, in military intelligence jargon, a ‘false flag’ operation.
Turkey’s Muslim Brotherhood-friendly Foreign Minister, the inscrutable Ahmet Davutoglu, is the government’s main architect of Turkey’s self-defeating strategy of toppling its former ally Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.….
The geopolitical dimension
The significant question to be asked at this point is what could bind Israel, Turkey, Qatar in a form of unholy alliance on the one side, and Assad’s Syria, Iran, Russia and China on the other side, in such deadly confrontation over the political future of Syria? One answer is energy geopolitics.
What has yet to be fully appreciated in geopolitical assessments of the Middle East is the dramatically rising importance of the control of natural gas to the future of not only Middle East gas producing countries, but also of the EU and Eurasia including Russia as producer and China as consumer…..
ALAWITES AND ALEVIS: WHAT’S IN A NAME? [JL. They suggest that Ankara does not have to be too worried about internal sectarian dissent if it intervenes in Syria. Alevis will not object even it Alawites do.]
By Khairi Abaza and Soner Cagaptay
Tensions are rising on the Turkish-Syrian border, as Turkey recently became the first country to take direct military action against the al-Assad regime since Syria’s uprising began in spring 2011. In response to the Syrian shelling of the Turkish town of Akcakale on October 3rd, an incident which killed 5 people, Ankara began shelling Syrian military targets. What is more, Turkey has issued a number of escalation threats — on October 7th, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that “although Turkey does not want war, it is close to war,” suggesting that Ankara is concerned with the spillover effect of the Syrian conflict in Turkey.
One major concern in this regard is the sectarian dimension of the Syrian conflict…..Problems between the Arab Alawites in Hatay and the government in Ankara are leading some to surmise a broader cleavage between Turkey’s Alevis — a community that represents 10-15 percent of Turkey’s 74 million citizens — and the Ankara government. Partly due to their similar names (Alevi vs. Alawite), many commentators appear to be confusing the groups, leading them to the erroneous conclusion that Alevis are close kin to the religious sect that controls Damascus. Alawites and Alevis alike represent non-Orthodox Islam, and the two groups have similar-sounding names because of their shared reverence for Ali, son-in-law of Mohamed. Nevertheless, Alawites and Alevis are in fact different groups ethnically and theologically, and confusing the two would be akin to saying that all Protestants are protestors. Just to name a few, here is a list of five ethnic and theological differences between the Alawites and the Alevis, detailed in length in a recent article published in Turkish daily Zaman:……
Confusing the two distinct groups would only serve to stoke sectarian tensions and further divide the Turkish public on the issue of involvement in Syria. Some Alevis, like many other staunchly secular-minded Turks, take issue with the rise of Sunni Muslim Brotherhood-led regimes in Damascus, which they fear might discriminate against or even persecute “non-orthodox” sects. Others, but also many Sunni Turks, are concerned over the security risks for Turkey of becoming more deeply involved on one side of the Syrian civil war. But Turkey’s Alevis as a whole, unlike Syria’s Alawites as a whole, are not predominantly supporters of Assad’s regime…..
At least 100 bodies found near Damascus, say activists
Damascus (dpa)- At least 100 bodies were found Sunday near Damascus, reported opposition activists. The victims appear to have been executed, in the town of Darya on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, they added.
The videos leave little room for doubt: they show cluster bombs lying on dusty ground next to buildings, or stuck nose first in the earth. All around are dozens of the unexploded bomblets that they released in mid-air and scattered over areas larger …