Although the execution of the UN Security Council Resolution 2118 – a part of which deals with the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons – is progressing very smoothly despite the periodic difficulties created for the OPCW inspectors by the insurgents, the same cannot be said for starting a political dialogue within Syria, a process that aims to end bloodshed in the country, as no progress is forthcoming in the matter.
The main political force of the Syrian opposition – The Syrian National Council – has, a few days ago, declared that it refuses to participate in the upcoming Geneva II talks aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis, held under the auspices of Russia, the U.S. and the UN. According to the head of the SNC George Sabra, representatives of the council are ready to leave the Syrian National Coalition if it takes part in the Geneva conference, which has been tentatively scheduled by Moscow and Washington for the middle of November this year. A precise date shall be determined by the UN Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi.
Earlier, commanders of the armed groups within the Syrian opposition stated that they will not enter into negotiations with representatives of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In the opinion of Abdel Qader al-Saleh, leader of the Liwa al-Tawhid, a military wing of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, 13 organizations refused to recognize The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (Syrian National Coalition) in large part precisely because the leadership of the Coalition agreed to accept the Geneva II terms and begin talks with Assad.
Meanwhile, it does not appear that Washington is putting forth any efforts to convince the insurgents to begin the peace process, while the U.S. has put forth a demand as a preliminary condition: for a certain “transitional government” to be created in Damascus while Assad is to renounce all claims to the government after the opposing forces enter into negotiations, if this is possible to achieve. An increasingly tougher stance has been adopted by Saudi Arabia, who has practically become the key player in the Syrian conflict by plotting intrigues and arranging bribes as well as conspiracies through the National Security Council’s Secretary General and Chief of Saudi Intelligence Prince Bandar bin Sultan. He is attempting to bet on the relatively moderate Islamic forces within the opposition, primarily those grouped around the Free Syrian Army. An even more destructive role is being played by Qatar, who is continuing to provide financial and military assistance to the more radical Islamists, including those associated with extremists of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. In the meantime, while the Saudis prefer to deal with the Syrian rebels who have been trained with the help of American instructors, the Qataris and the Turks, on the other hand, place their bets on foreign jihadists, who are increasingly moving to the top within the rebel ranks. Their demands include not only to remove the Assad regime from power, but to also make Syria an Islamic state, based on the Sharia Law, which is at odds with the goals of the Free Syrian Army and the secular portion of the opposition.
Simultaneously, the army – which has stayed loyal to Assad – continues the fight to eliminate the hotbeds of revolt, primarily those close to the capital and to the south. However, the insurgents are persistently concentrating their forces around Damascus and are attempting to completely infiltrate the city to wreak havoc within. As such, in the evening of October 13 a few mortar rounds launched by the insurgents detonated near the Umayyad Square in Damascus. It was later confirmed that the mortar rounds were only the initial stage in preparation for the terrorist attack involving car bombs led by suicide bombers, who attacked the headquarters of Syrian state television. Security was able to thwart the criminals’ plans. The suicide bombers were shot and exploded without reaching their target. Nonetheless the broadcasting of the Al-Ikhbariya TV channel was down for some time because equipment was damaged in the attack.
Prior to this, a video appeared online early in the morning where the rebel group set out an ultimatum and demanded that the army end the siege of large forces of terrorists in the area of East Huta and Muadhamiya. In the event that the army refuses, they pledged to “shower Damascus with a rain of missiles and mortar fire” while also giving a deadline to comply with their demands – 12:00 local time on October 13. On that day, their mortar shells hit the Squares of Abbas, Al-Kusur and Al-Hassan, as well as Palestinian refugee camps Al-Wafiden, Al-Qadam, Al Malki, Dahiet Basel Al-Assad and Jaramana where no less than 50 people have been injured. The army retaliated with a series of attacks on the terrorists’ firing positions in Duma, Jobar, Barza, in the Al-Jura neighbourhood and the Al-Qadam area.
During a phone conversation with representatives from the United Press International agency, an anonymous leader of the so-called political administration within the headquarters of the radical group Jaish al-Islam stated that new groups of insurgents have arrived into Syria from countries of the Arab Maghreb, Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus and Chechnya to partake in military operations. This confirms the tendency of building up foreign mercenary forces within the rebel ranks, paid for by Qatar and various Islamic charitable private funds within Kuwait and the UAE.
During an army counter-terrorist operation in Darayya, a new 600m long tunnel was discovered, which, according to the websites of armed groups, took over 6 months to build. They also claimed that the rebels hoped to utilize the tunnel to flank the army divisions. Meanwhile, fierce fighting was taking place in the Hteytet At-Turkman settlement in East Huta where the army divisions were able to noticeably advance their positions due to successful strikes on the enemy. The artillery dealt several blows to the Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group which was holding their position in the An-Nebeka plantations. Dozens of terrorists have been killed, including Nazih Ayman al-Khoz, one of the influential field commanders.
According to sources close to the leadership of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s military wing Liwa al-Tawhid, Russian citizen Konstantin Zhuravlev has been executed by the insurgents of this radical Islamic group. Representatives from a number of media agencies have contacted the armed groups’ Salafi Sheikh Moaz Al-Saffu to determine the credibility of this information. He stated that he currently does not have any accurate information while at the same time, however, he did not rule out this possibility. The extremists’ spiritual mentor also stated that such an outcome would be favourable to him, as Sharia Law clearly states that an “enemy spy should be executed”.
Clashes have once again erupted between rebel groups within the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the area of Azaz. In the same northern area of the province, the Kurdish self-defence groups continue opposition against Al-Qaeda terrorists on the outskirts of the Maarin settlement. Terrorists from two groups within the Free Syrian Army clashed in Aleppo’s Al-Marja neighbourhood. Under the leadership of Suleiman Khaldie, nicknamed Saffakh, one of the groups decided to join a rebel group within the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant organisation. Their “partners in crime” from another group, where rebel Bahri As-Sukkar is the field commander, did not agree to this decision and fighting broke out. Fighting has also broken out in the Bustan Al-Qasr area between Free Syrian Army divisions and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group. Among those killed is the field commander Akhfad Ar-Rasul Akhmad Muhammad Rajab.
All of this is evidence of the highly unstable military situation in Syria. The armed forces, loyal to Assad, are so far able to deliver powerful blows to the rebel forces, although they are not able to crush all the centres of their rebellion and free the territories currently occupied by the insurgents. However, amidst all of this, there is a noticeable division of forces within the opposition, as the extremists are increasingly struggling against the more moderate forces within the Free Syrian Army. It appears that the civil war in Syria will continue in its present stalemate form until the issue of Syrian political dialogue resolves itself. However, no one is currently being very optimistic with regards to these talks, which means that Syria is due to continue its bloody civil war of attrition.
Petr Lvov, Ph.D. in political science, exclusively for the New Eastern Outlook online magazine.