Justin Vela

More on the Syrian rebels first attack inside Damascus…a critical Free Officers Movement wary of Turkey…

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Istanbul-This morning the Independent published a piece by me on Syrian rebels carrying out their first attack inside Damascus.

Coming shortly after an assault on the air force intelligence headquarters just outside the capital, the reported attack contributes to a growing sense that the Syrian opposition is ready to make a more co-ordinated use of force against the Assad regime. The Free Syrian Army, whose leader, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, is based in neighbouring Turkey, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Read the full article here. 

Due to the events in Cairo, much of the original article was cut.

Below is the rest of the article, which includes parts of an interview with a member of the Syrian Free Officers Movement who reminds us how complicated the Syria conflict, which increasingly looks like civil war, remains:

Many analysts believe the conflict inside Syria has reached a crucial point. Peaceful demonstrations have continued despite attacks by regime forces. Yet, the fractured Syrian opposition has failed to win support for direct Western intervention.

Omar al-Muqdad, a senior opposition activist who fled Syria for Turkey in March, claimed that Western diplomats were frustrated with the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) and therefore unwilling to take more rapid action.

 “A lot of diplomats are saying they are not going to deal with these people,” he said. “They say all the time, ‘when the regime steps down who will lead?’ Its not clear.”

 Even one of the growing number of army defectors voiced frustration with how the opposition campaign was being carried out. Basim al-Khaled, a lieutenant who defected last May, cast doubt on the Free Syrian Army’s ability to carry out attacks inside the country.

 “Colonel al-As’aad has no control on the ground,” said al-Khaled. “Because [al-As’aad] is out of Syria, he controls nothing inside the country.”

 A member of the Syrian Free Officers Movement who the Independent interviewed just after he held negotiations with the SNC on increasing the opposition’s political and military coordination, he was in Istanbul clandestinely to avoid Turkish security forces.

 Referring to al-As’aad as a “card” used to influence events in Syria, he said his group would not speak with the Turkish government after its leader, Lt. Col. Hussein Harmoush, who had also been based in Turkey, disappeared after allegedly going to meet a Turkish intelligence agent. About two weeks later he appeared on Syrian state TV, confessing a role in the uprising.

 Many in the opposition believe that Turkey handed Harmoush over to Syria in exchange for captured Kurdish militants.

 “If they handed him over or not they are responsible,” al-Khaled said of Turkey’s role in Harmoush’s disappearance.

 He also dismissed al-As’aad’s claims that the Free Syrian Army was composed of some 10 or 15 thousand defectors. “If it was true the regime would be finished,” he said.

 Instead, he said there were “a lot” of defectors spread across the country, commanded by about one thousand defected officers, he said.  

 “al-As’aad wants to raise people’s spirits, but in fact he has hurt us, and people will not believe us in the future,” he said, referring to the opposition’s lack of credibility after few political or military victories.

 Both al-Khaled and al-Muqdad said the Syrian opposition had to reorganise itself. “Its not unified. They need to fix the council,” said Muqdad. “Finally, [the conflict in Syria] is a political subject.”

 Asked about the increase in attacks by armed opposition forces inside Syria, al-Khaled was hesitant to say who is carrying them out.

 The Free Officers Movement was focused on defending towns and cities as supposed to carrying out larger-scale offensive attacks, he said. With nearly all its officers outside Syria, the Free Syrian Army did not have the ability to launch the attacks.

 “It was civilians,” al-Khaled said of a recent attack on an intelligence facility in Hasrata.

 After nearly nine months of peaceful demonstrations the only concrete response has been continued regime violence, al-Muqdad said. “Its normal to get some people that carry guns to defend themselves.”

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Written by Justin Vela

November 21, 2011 at 9:43 am

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