Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Kurds counter Syrian jihadists

Kurds counter Syrian jihadists
Kurds counter Syrian jihadists
Al-Ahram Weekly

In an exclusive interview with the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat, Ahmed Jarba, the new president of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), speaking from Saudi Arabia at the start of a Middle East tour, disclosed that his priority is to secure advanced arms for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), in addition to humanitarian assistance for the suffering people of Syria.

The virtual secession of Syrian Kurdistan, significantly called Western Kurdistan in Syria, hit the headlines and was widely regarded as a turning point in the Syrian civil war. Fighting broke out in oil-rich north-eastern Syria between jihadists and Islamist militant groups belonging to the Al-Nusra Front and Kurdish militias, who this week seized the Ras Al-Ayn border crossing into Turkey. Kurdish fighters from the Popular Protection Units (YPG) have seized the Al-Sweidiya oil-producing area.

But, back to the SNC. Jarba, who assumed the post of SNC president earlier this month following a close runoff election, is a Sunni Muslim born in 1969 in the north-eastern Syrian city of Qamishli, in the predominantly Kurdish Hassaka province, much of which has this week fallen into the hands of the Kurdish militias. He is known to be an influential tribal figure who was imprisoned between 1996 and 1998 for his opposition to the late Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad. He was later jailed at the start of the current uprising in March 2011 for supporting pro-democracy protests against Bashar Al-Assad.

Qamishli, however, is still in the hands of Syrian government forces. Following his release, Jarba left the country and joined the opposition abroad. Hassaka, however, is overwhelmingly in Kurdish hands. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and militant Islamist groups such as Al-Nusra have been unceremoniously flushed out of Hassaka.

There were telltale signs that trouble was brewing between the Kurds and the anti-Al-Assad armed opposition. The National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria, which consists of Syria’s 12 Kurdish parties, boycotted a Syrian opposition summit in Antalya, Turkey as early as May 2011. The earliest incident of Kurdish-FSA fighting happened between 29 June and 3 July 2012.

“We should not beat around the bush. The main pending issue is to provide all the requirements for survival, including weapons, food, water and medication,” Jarba told Asharq Al-Awsat. “Our revolution has clear objectives, which we will not abandon or negotiate over. Our people have sacrificed the blood of tens of thousands of martyrs for these legitimate objectives. Moreover, we support any political solution that leads to the full achievement of the objectives of the revolution, provided it regulates a peaceful transition of power and reduces the amount of sacrifices and the time required to achieve victory. This objective is to see all Syrians, regardless of their background, as citizens in a free and democratic country equal in rights and duties,” Jarba extrapolated.

“My colleagues in the SNC and I are touring several Arab and Western countries. This began in the [Saudi] Kingdom due to its importance and central role in supporting the Syrian revolution, as well as due to the special relationship between our fraternal countries and peoples. Besides, we have come to Saudi Arabia to express our thanks for its stance towards the Syrian issue and in order to explain the SNC’s point of view to the Saudi leadership.

“In our meeting with Crown Prince Salman, we talked about the ever-deteriorating humanitarian situation and the harsh treatment of the Syrian people at the hands of the criminal regime and its Shabiha militia, with Iran and Hizbullah providing the regime with direct military assistance,” Jarba summed up.

Turkish disorientation following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was another topic of discussion in the press. “At one time, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had won over many hearts in the Arab region. Arabs saw him as an honest and successful political figure who sympathised with their causes. However, their love did not last long. Erdogan’s loss of Arab support can mainly be attributed to his failure to stop the massacres in Syria at the hands of Al-Assad’s regime, and his failure to avenge innocent Turkish citizens killed by Israelis. Instead, he accepted the blood money,” noted Abdel-Rahman Al-Rashed derisively in Asharq Al-Awsat.

Al-Rashed is the general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. “When Erdogan publicly supports Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, he is, in fact, antagonising most Egyptian and other Arab figures who disagree with him. If the Turkish prime minister thinks it was unjust to oust Morsi — and it is his right to believe so — he should have played the role of mediator, rather than taking sides. First, he knows that he cannot change anything in Egypt and that he does not have the tools to ensure Morsi’s return to power, given that Turkey failed to contribute to the fall of Al-Assad’s regime despite being a regional power — and Syria is a quarter the size of Egypt,” Al-Rashed noted.

The Syrian crisis vied for space with developments in Egypt. Walid Choukair, writing in another London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat observed that “Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad can be proud, as he was quoted by Reuters one week ago.” Choukair quoted Al-Assad as saying that “developments in Syria are moving in my favour.”

“In terms of his grip on power and remaining the head of state in Syria, the man continues to live in his own world. He pays no attention to the destruction that he has dished out to a centrally important state, one with a huge impact on the regional situation. He is equally unconcerned with the fact that more than 100,000 people have been killed, and millions of displaced people and refugees,” Choukair lamented.

“Refugees in schools inside the country are being bombed, namely in Homs. He is also unconcerned with losing control of around half of Syrian territory,” Choukair raged.

“Al-Assad and his allies Russia, Iran and Hizbullah, which support him with money, weapons, fighters and intelligence information, can be proud that he has managed to remain in power for more than two and a half years following the outbreak of a popular uprising against him. These allies can rejoice at the fact that Al-Assad’s rivals have fallen into the trap of fighting against each other. This is taking place in clashes pitting units of the rebel Free Syrian Army against fighters from the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in areas of the Syrian coast and the north of the country, as the armed opposition’s ranks become fragmented and weakened,” Choukair concluded.

The spillover into Lebanon of the Syrian civil war was tackled by several Lebanese pundits. “On 17 July, unidentified gunmen assassinated Mohamed Darrar Jammo (born 1969), a pro-government Syrian political activist and the head of political and international relations in the Global Arab Expatriates Organisation, in his home in the town of Sarafand, near the southern Lebanese coastal city of Sidon,” wrote Mohamed Salah in the Lebanese daily As-Safir. “Jammo was gunned down at close range with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle in a hail of more than 19 bullets that hit his chest, feet and other parts of his body. The perpetrators got away,” Salah stated.

He stressed that the Lebanese Shia militant Islamist group Hizbullah led by Hassan Nasrallah was especially outraged by Jammo’s cold-blooded murder. “In a statement, Hizbullah denounced the assassination, saying, ‘This is a serious terrorist crime that is far from religion and morality,’ and ‘urged the Lebanese authorities to take the necessary immediate measures to apprehend the perpetrators.’”

Mohamed Ballout, also writing in As-Safir warned that the Saudi intelligence services were also actively arming jihadist factions in the north of Syria, such as the Ahrar Al-Sham (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant). “The opposition Syrian National Coalition is prolonging losing control over the country’s north to safeguard what remains of its influence there in the face of chaos and the Salafist jihadist threat,” Ballout stressed. He gave graphic examples of the intervention of militant Islamist groups in the Syrian conflict, complicating the grim picture further.

“The French daily Le Canard Enchainé wrote that last week, the French Foreign Ministry received diplomatic and security reports from Beirut indicating that 400 Pakistani Taliban fighters had crossed via Turkey to the north of Syria. But it remains unclear whether the Turks would surrender to the coalition or whether the Saudis would give up the army of Syrian refugee officers and soldiers that they control, having rejected in the past similar demands to mobilise those men and put them at the service of the coalition,” Ballout adjudged.

 

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