Weekly information and analysis bulletin specialized in Arab Middle Eastern affairs prepared by neworientnews.com
Editor in chief Wassim Raad
New Orient Center for Strategic policies
Tammam Salam problems begin with the formation of the government
By Ghaleb Kandil
MP Walid Jumblatt drew on the culture of consuls, which was in use during the nineteenth century, the traditional concept of the Lebanese mentality: the inability, for Lebanon, to live without foreign or regional tutelage. In his television interview Thursday, April 4, he said sadly, “we were left to ourselves”, before telling how a Saudi royal “will” offered the name of a new prime minister after the resignation of Mikati, which had also intervened following a Saudi “will”. Many analysts have said that the Wahhabi kingdom wants to inherit the role of Syria. Meanwhile Walid Jumblatt was presenting its new guidelines with a record level of hatred and resentment against the Syrian state, repeating what he heard from his mentor, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the past two years.
The decision of 8 March and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) to support Tammam Salam’s candidacy as Prime Minister was a blow to Hariri clan, the United States and Saudi Arabia, who were planning to form a non-political government under the pretext of organizing the elections, or a cabinet formed by March-14 and its centrist allies. But the smart maneuver conducted by Speaker Nabih Berry, under the title of meeting in the middle of the road the “consensual approach” of Jumblatt has imposed another agenda: a consensual government.
The fact that the 8-March and its allies have finally decided to support Tammam Salam, and abandoned the idea of offering their own candidate, helps to lower the political and security tension, which was maintained over the past two years by Salafist and extremists groups, coached and supported by the Hariri clan and March-14 coalition.
But the real difficulties will begin after the appointment of the Prime Minister, because the real issue is the allocation of portfolios, the characteristics and tasks of the next government.
Differences will appear in the debate concerning the Electoral Act and the Ministerial Declaration. Probably the Washington-Riyadh axis will ask Tammam Salam to continue on the same path as the pseudo-centrists (Michel Sleiman, Mikati and Jumblatt), which formed after the retreat of March-14, the US-Saudi political tool in Lebanon. But the counter-strike of the Syrian state on the battlefield will change the equation.
Raids and bombing the terrorist camps located in Lebanon will become an instrument of the Syrian offensive. And this will force the Lebanese government to take serious and concrete measures on the ground, like Jordan, which has hindered its interference and its support for extremists after the ultimatum of Damascus.
In this context, the period of the current affairs expedition by Najib Mikati’s government could last long if the formation of the new cabinet will be complicated.
Muslim Brotherhood criticized by western media
A long Agence France-Presse (AFP) sheds light on the hegemony of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Syrian opposition and suspicion between the various components of this opposition, as well as the vagueness surrounds the real intentions of the Islamist Brotherhood.
Muslim Brotherhood may be President Bashar Assad’s best-organized political adversaries, but they are also loathed by some dissidents who accuse them of trying to dominate the opposition, backed by funds from Qatar.
The accusations date back to the start of uprising against Assad more than two years ago, but came to a head on March 19 after the election of rebel prime minister Ghassan Hitto, with some activists saying his selection was “pushed” by the Brotherhood.
In late March, some 70 dissidents sent a letter to the Arab League criticizing “the dictatorial control exercised by one of [the opposition’s] … currents over its decisions and actions, and the flagrant hegemony of diverse Arab and regional players.”
Immediately after Hitto was elected in a meeting of the key National Coalition grouping in Istanbul, a dozen prominent opponents froze their membership in the organization.
Among them was Kamal al-Labwani, an influential liberal and one of the Brotherhood’s most outspoken critics. “The Brotherhood leads all the decision-making in the coalition. They control the committees linked to arming [the rebels] and humanitarian assistance,” Labwani told AFP.
“They appear to be just a few in the coalition, but they buy the other members out thanks to the money they receive from Doha and Ankara. They are trading in influence,” he said.
London-based Ali al-Bayanouni, the Brotherhood’s deputy political chief, rejected the accusations.
“Our role in the coalition has been greatly exaggerated, and we are not financed by any state,” he told AFP, saying the group’s funding comes from “members and supporters, from Syria and elsewhere.”
“We represent just 10 percent of the coalition. How can they say we control everything?”
Critics of the Brotherhood fear the group may harvest the fruits of the anti-regime revolt as they have in Egypt.
“In all the Arab Spring countries, the revolution was stolen by the same people: the Muslim Brotherhood. We are dying on the front lines, while they take the influential positions,” a rebel fighter in the coastal province of Latakia told AFP.
Founded in Egypt in 1928, the Brotherhood seeks to spark an Islamic renaissance and challenge the Western political model.
The movement emerged in Syria in the 1930s, and later spearheaded a revolt against Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, who brutally crushed the uprising in the city of Hama in 1982. Between 10,000 and 40,000 people were killed, according to rights groups.
The group is outlawed in Syria, with members subject to execution.
“They believe that they are the natural leaders of Syria, they believe … their time has finally come and that they represent the nation better than anybody else,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.
“That self-assurance is resented of course by all the other groups. … The Brotherhood are the presumed winners, and that is why they are targeted.”
Analysts and dissidents admit that the Brotherhood are Syria’s best-organized opposition group. They have a hierarchy, offices, a website and even a newspaper.
“Qatar and Turkey support them because they are the only institutional party that has any chance of organizing Syria” should Assad fall, Landis told AFP.
“They are well-organized politically, militarily and financially. That’s why they are taking over,” said a rebel fighter in the northern city of Aleppo.
Damascus accuses the Brotherhood of acting as instruments of Qatar and Turkey, where their chief, Mohammad Riad al-Shaqfa, is based.
And though the group pays lip service to a civil state based on human rights, among anti-regime activists “there is a deep suspicion that they are using democracy to come to power, and then once they come to power, they will use the laws in order to suppress their critics as we see today in Egypt,” Landis added.
The West may also prefer to work with the Brotherhood, which is more moderate than jihadists loyal to groups such as the Nusra Front, opponents say.
Tammam Salam, Lebanese prime minister
«I start from the necessity of taking Lebanon out of divisions and political tensions that were reflected in the security situation. I want to mitigate threats from the catastrophic situation next door. I’ll do my best to form a national interest government. I start from the point of uniting national visions and to quickly reach an agreement on a new elections law that gives justice of representation.»
Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president
«The whole world knows that if Syria is partitioned, or if terrorist forces take control of the country, there will be direct contagion of the surrounding countries. Then there would be a domino effect on countries perhaps far from the Middle East, to the west, east, north and south. This would mean instability for many years, even decades. I live in Damascus as usual and not on board a Russian warship or in Iran. The rebels brandish sectarian slogans. Erdogan is recruiting fighters thanks to funding provided by Qatar. Turkey will be burned with fire Syria. Unfortunately, he does not see this reality. Erdogan did not utter a single word honest since the beginning of the crisis in Syria. Arab League lacks legitimacy. It is an organization that represents Arabs and non Arab people. It lacks legitimacy long time because these Arab states themselves do not represent the will of the Arab people. France and Britain have committed massacres in Libya with the support and coverage of the United States. The Turkish government has Syrian blood to the knees. Is that these states really care Syrian blood?»
Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement
«Lebanon has lived in the shadow of a constitutional vacuum since Michel Sleiman was elected. Mikati, considered that the extension of the mandate of General Ashraf Rifi at the head of ISF is more important than the fate of the government. As for Mr. Jumblatt, he is mentally unstable. I have met in my life many Druze, they were all polite, except Walid Jumblatt. I do not know who he looks like. Lebanon has a battle between good and evil. And humbly, I represent well.»
Vladimir Putin, Russian president
«We do not think that Assad should leave today, as our partners suggest. In this case, tomorrow we will have to decide what to do and where to go. As an example, Libya has already split into three parts. We don’t want a situation that is just as difficult as in Iraq. We do not want to have a situation of the same difficulty as in Yemen and so on. We believe it is necessary to sit everyone down at the negotiating table, so that all warring parties could reach an agreement on how their interests will be protected and in what way they will participate in the future governance of the country. First of all, there are no bans on arms supplies to incumbent legitimate governments. Secondly, only recently the opposition received 3.5 tons of arms and ammunition through airports near Syria. There are international legal norms stating that it is inadmissible to supply arms to armed groups that strive to destabilize the situation in a certain country with the use of weapons. I think he has some interesting ideas that can be implemented, but it requires some diplomatic work. We are ready to support these ideas. We need to try and put them into practice.»
Ahmad Fatfat, Lebanese MP, member of Future movement bloc
«March-14 Forces refuse to take the equation army-people-resistance. A parliamentary majority wiped out this formula and speaks now of the Declaration of Baabda. Circumstances do not permit the formation of a government by an alliance between March-14 and MP Walid Jumblatt. Mars-14 is in favor of a government including all parties, even if they are not directly represented.»
Ø Army Intelligence fought overnight with a group of arms’ smugglers caught red handed while trying to unload a cache of arms and ammunitions into an Ein-Zhalta arms’ depot, Yarzeh-based Army Command Directorate of Guidance spokesman disclosed today. Gunmen opened fire first on an Army Intelligence unit which fired back killing one gunman. An army vehicle was hit and one soldier hospitalized for injuries he’d sustained during the firefight, same spokesperson said. Upon searching the area for further arms and explosives, army patrol laid hands on an illicit munitions and arms’ depot where soldiers uncovered heavy, medium and light caliber weapons along with large quantities of assorted ammunitions. Eight suspects presently under interrogation were arrested pending their handing over to the Military Tribunal for prosecution the military spokesperson concluded.
Ø Lebanese General Security (GS) said that since last October, 340,000 new Syrian refugees entered Lebanon. “Lebanon cannot handle alone the refugee crisis in Syria. He will need the help of Arab countries and the international community”, said a source from the GS.
Ø The Chief Technology and logistics Officer of the Israeli army, Coby Barak said yesterday that “the land will tremble in Israel if Hezbollah rockets will be drawn in case of war with Lebanon” .
Ø The U.S. State Department has advised its citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon, involving sectarian violence, kidnappings and the voltage at the Syrian border. “U.S. citizens living and working in Lebanon should be aware that they are taking risks by staying in this country and should be carefully reassessed”, the State Department said in a statement. The State Department indicates that a sudden blaze of the situation is not excluded and that the Lebanese government will not be able to guarantee the protection of citizens and visitors in the event of conflict. “Access to borders, airports, roads and ports can be interrupted without notice, and events often take place and may escalate,” it added. Washington also warned against sectarian clashes and confrontations with the Lebanese-Syrian border. ” U.S. citizens in Lebanon are encouraged to monitor events in Syria.
As Safir (Lebanese daily, close to the majority, April 4, 2013)
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, who overthrew the table, was the spearhead of the action taken by the Christians of the majority and the opposition to bury the 1960 Act, when Walid Jumblatt supporters were preparing to submit their candidacies on the basis of this law. Jumblatt finds himself in a quandary: the submission of candidacies will result in a face-to-face with all Christians, and most importantly, the Maronite Patriarchate. After the “funeral” of the 1960 Act, a chance was given to reach a consensual act within a period of a month during which “we cut the engine of orthodox project”. This simply means that the elections were postponed because even if a new electoral law was passed tomorrow, the Ministry of the Interior will need six months to finalize the preparations for the elections. Patriarch Rai made contact during the meeting with President Sleiman and told him that he would dispatch him with a delegation of the Assembly of Bishops to inform him about the content of the discussions.
An Nahar (Lebanese Daily, close to march-14 coalition)
Rosanna Bou Moucef (April 4, 2013)
Many political sources do not hide their fear of a long and open crisis in Lebanon, partly due to the Syrian crisis, which itself is long and open. In addition, no majority in Lebanon can impose its vision light of the opposition expressed by a political camp. Discontent displayed by 8-Mars, who argued that the resignation of Mikati was ordered by embassies, or intended to impose new balance of power in Lebanon, raises the following questions: Does March-8 authorize the emergence of new balances of power in the country? This camp is not weakened to the point that it agrees to make concessions on issues that are at the heart of its political discourse.
March-8 bathed in confusion. The conditions laid down by Hezbollah to repeat the formula army-people-resistance face obstacles, this equation no longer had a majority after President Michel Sleiman and MP Walid Jumblatt expressed their commitment to the “Declaration of Baabda.”
In this context, 14-March seems to have taken over one of the essential keys of the political game in Lebanon. But this does not mean that the coalition is not facing challenges because it may be unable to impose the holding organization of elections as scheduled in accordance with the 1960 Act, or to form a neutral government, as it wishes.
Al Akhbar (Lebanese Daily close to the Resistance, April 5, 2013)
Recent Israeli reports have placed remarkable – and repeated – emphasis on Hezbollah’s military capabilities and its unprecedented potential for inflicting harm on Israel in the event of war. The reports mark a departure from Tel Aviv’s approach to the issue throughout 2012.
Large-scale devastation and a high number of casualties on the Israeli side, the reports reckoned, should be expected in any war with Lebanon, both in occupied Palestine and along the frontlines. The conflict would not spare Israeli infrastructure, including communications, transport, and power plants.
Israel would also have to cope with a practical naval blockade, while offshore oil and gas facilities may come under fire, as they are considered relatively easy targets.
The latest warning in this direction was issued by the head of the Israeli Technological and Logistics Directorate ‘Atal’, Brig. Gen. Kobi Barak. Barak said that Hezbollah had the military capacity to “shake the ground” beneath Israel, on account of its arsenal of powerful and precise rockets.
Previous reports emphasized something else entirely, and claimed that the Israeli army had completed its preparations for a conflict on the northern front. The Israeli army was now even more prepared than 2006 for war with Lebanon, those reports alleged, while steering clear as much as possible from discussing Hezbollah’s capabilities.
In the Israeli view, the Lebanese and Syrian fronts are highly flammable, and one stroke of a matchstick is enough to ignite them. A high-ranking military source recently told Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth that those who are privy to classified information realize that the current lull is but a “time-out” before war breaks out with Lebanon and Syria.
At the same time, several internal developments in Israel itself have contributed to the warnings over Hezbollah. For instance, the newly formed government led by Benjamin Netanyahu intends to scale back the defense budget for this year and the next. The Israeli army fears its readiness and training programs for future conflicts could be affected.
The threat of war and defense budget cuts also explain the recent shift in the Israeli approach, from glorifying the Israeli army, to emphasizing the strength of the opponent, namely, Hezbollah.
But simultaneously, this exposes the real estimates – and concerns – of the security establishment in Israel as regards the coming war, and also Israel’s powerlessness to prevent its damages.
In its latest assessment of a future conflict, Israel concluded that 1,200 rockets, of various types would hit Israel on each day of fighting. Furthermore, 5,000 warheads are currently pointed towards Tel Aviv, each carrying an explosive payload of between 300 and 880 kg.
Cities and population centers in Israel have no real protection from the rockets of the Resistance. The Iron Dome missile shield system would be mainly used to protect the army’s combat operations, meaning the batteries would be deployed around military airports – and even then it is doubtful they can offer much protection.
Ultimately, Israel’s implicit recognition of the prohibitive costs of any coming war with Hezbollah lends credence to the following equation: While the threat Hezbollah poses is a strong motivation for Israel to wage war, it is also sufficient to deter it from starting the conflict.
Al Akhbar (April 5, 2013)
How did Lebanon and Saudi Arabia’s power brokers decide on Tammam Salam as the country’s next prime minister? Al-Akhbarexplains how former prime minister Mikati’s calculations failed him and paved the way for Salam’s rise.
When former prime minister Fouad Siniora delivered his speech to the massive crowds at the funeral of Wissam al-Hassan, the assassinated intelligence chief, standing next to him was none other than Tammam Salam.
Last night, Siniora and Salam were side-by-side once again, this time at Saad Hariri’s downtown mansion. The Arab and international signal had been given to begin negotiations on a new prime minister. With that, MP Salam is now the next prime minister in waiting.
Today is the beginning of a new phase in a path that was plotted months ago. Riyadh had to choose one of two names: Salam or Brigadier General Ashraf Rifi, head of the Internal Security Forces. The latter had been asked two months ago, but he nominated Rafik Hariri’s sister and Saida MP Bahia Hariri. She preferred to run for parliament.
In those two months, the situation took a different turn. Rifi was slated for an extension in his position, but fell into the quarrel between Hezbollah and MP Michel Aoun, on one side, and Mikati, on the other.
In the last few days, the Saudis proposed Rifi’s name to its visitors. The last such visitor was MP Walid Jumblatt, who found it difficult to defend a character who is “confrontational” with Hezbollah.
Like they did with Mikati, however, the Saudis wanted to push Jumblatt into a final and decisive position. Then, they put Salam’s name in the negotiation basket.
Rifi was picked by both Hariri and the Saudis for several reasons. His security abilities would be useful to control the situation in Tripoli and Saida. He has good ties with the Arab (read: Saudi) and Western intelligence communities.
Salam is a purely Saudi suggestion. Hariri was unhappy with the choice until the last moment. However, Hariri did not want to give back the clout to someone who had kept a distance from the Future Movement.
But the Saudis spoke and Hariri met the son of former prime minister Saeb Salam. Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan met with Hariri and, all of a sudden, Salam became the opposition candidate. The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon went around Beirut informing all those concerned of Riyadh’s position.
Jumblatt chose the easiest of the two names, Salam, as a candidate for consensus, given first by March 14, before March 8 had announced its position.
When Mikati threatened to resign for the “umpteenth” time, there was no one to stop him this time. He committed a serious error in an appropriate time and situation. He thought he was indispensable; everyone will come back to him or Arab and Western capitals will call for his return. But his political calculations failed.
The capitals demonstrated that their support for the current government was weak. They were primarily concerned with the question of Lebanon’s stability. As Paris told Mikati on the eve of his visit in February 2012, they will receive the Lebanese prime minister, no matter who he is.
This was repeated yesterday. Mikati is a guarantee for Lebanon’s stability only as long as he is head of government. Otherwise, a replacement is ready and all governments will be willing to deal with his successor.
When he resigne
d, Mikati could not find anyone to support him. Hezbollah and Aoun owed him nothing. Only Jumblatt remained at his side until he was accused of politically burning him.
Mikati, the MP from Tripoli, had come to power in alliance with the Future Movement and then turned against them. Hariri has declared a veto on Mikati as prime minister and as MP in the next elections.
Al Akhbar (April 2, 2013)
Following the Lebanese prime minister’s resignation, Saudi Arabia has been working behind the scenes to boost its presence in Lebanon. Here’s a look at how the kingdom views a future Lebanese government.
During the two-year tenure of Najib Mikati’s government, Saudi Arabia, to some extent, kept its distance from Lebanese affairs. Yet one question remained largely unanswered: Did Mikati take office with a green light from Saudi?
Throughout the lifespan of the previous Lebanese government, all attempts by Sunni Lebanese leaders to get answers failed miserably. Today, as the country searches for a new government to replace Mikati’s outgoing cabinet, Lebanon is once again a hot topic in Saudi Arabia’s corridors of power.
Despite all the reported affirmations that Saudi will let Future head Saad Hariri name a candidate for the post, Arab and Lebanese sources say that Riyadh has a special agenda.
As part of that agenda, Saudi has resolved to make a comeback in Lebanon, in accordance with a formula that mimics the former role of Syria. In other words, the kingdom would not act as a party to the internal conflict, but rather as a “referee,” managing and helping resolve crises among Lebanese factions.
According to the sources, it is possible that in the coming days Lebanese figures from different sects will visit Saudi to discuss solutions to the present crisis. The same sources maintain that though it was Riyadh – in addition to Washington – that instructed Mikati to resign, Saudi Arabia is in favor of him returning to preside over the future government. The goal, the sources claim, is to form another government led by Mikati, but under a different set of alliances and conditions.
In short, Riyadh wants Mikati to return to lead a government not dominated by the March 8 coalition, especially with the Free Patriotic Movement controlling the lion’s share of cabinet portfolios. From the Saudi point of view, Mikati would help safeguard the moderate-centrist ground in the political spectrum.
Designating Mikati to form a cabinet again would also alleviate the March 8 and 14 polarization. This would produce a “moderate” and religiously diverse bloc, bridging the gap between Hezbollah and the Future Movement – the source of most Sunni-Shia tension.
To successfully see its bid through, Riyadh is betting, among other things, on President Michel Suleiman adopting a strong stance in favor of its scheme. Furthermore, Riyadh is acting based on the assumption that Hezbollah wishes to defuse Sunni-Shia tension.
While leaving the door open to discussions, Saudi prefers to see Mikati form a government that is neutral in appearance. In this vein, Suleiman reportedly intends to stand his ground on several issues, like holding the 2013 general election within the constitutional deadlines.
Behind closed doors, Suleiman shares Riyadh’s view that Mikati is the best choice for prime minister, as he has shown an ability to manage the political game despite its complexities.
Another item on the Saudi agenda, which also happens to be Mikati’s signature stroke, is the dissociation policy over the conflict in Syria. The policy remains desirable internationally, despite recent reservations.
More than ever, Riyadh is enthusiastic about Lebanon’s dissociation approach. For one thing, Saudi is rumored to be planning a gradual withdrawal from the quagmire in Syria. The same sources reckon that Damascus is aware of this recent shift in Saudi attitudes, but that it remains cautious.
It is worth noting that Riyadh, throughout the previous phase, had postponed tackling the situation in Lebanon, waiting instead for the dust to settle in Damascus. But the sources believe that Saudi has finally decided to stop putting its Lebanon policy on hold.
Ad Diyar (Lebanese daily, close to March-8 Coalition)
(April 4, 2013)
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) begins to accelerate organizing its ranks in Tripoli, where it has deployed its elements in apartments in Malloulé, Bab el-Tebbané, Zahiriyé, Kobbe, al-Mina al-Tall. The headquarter of the FSA in the city is Bab el-Tebbané. The new leader of the FSA, which has never yet appeared in public, is a general who calls himself Abu Mohammad. Coordination between the Syrian rebels and Salafist groups in Tripoli began and Lebanese security services are aware of all these activities, as well as Hezbollah, which has its own intelligence services in the region. Command of FSA began to register the names of recruits wishing to join the military units deployed in Denniyé and Akkar, which could be used by the Americans if they want to put pressure on the government and the Lebanese Army. Washington has also requested the Lebanese authorities not to suppress or limit the scope of the FSA, stressing that his attitude towards the Lebanese government will depend on the actions of the latter with FSA. Similarly, the Gulf States felt that the facilitation of the activities of FSA in Lebanon is a major issue for them.
The elements of FSA are mainly grouped in the plain of Wadi Khaled and Akkar. The flags of the Syrian opposition began to appear, including in Halba, in the former headquarter of the Syrian intelligence service. FSA also erected flying checkpoints to verify the identity of passers-by and motorists and monitors comings and goings in Syria. To this end, it has set up observation posts near the border in Abboudiyé and Arida.
The Daily Star (Lebanese Daily, April 5, 2013)
As the battle for Damascus approaches, the array of Syrian opposition forces facing President Bashar Assad appears to share one common trait: Most of the major rebel groups have strong Islamist roots and backing from Muslim neighbors.
The Free Syrian Army has developed a rough “order of battle” that describes these rebel groups, their ideology and sources of funding. This report was shared last week with the State Department. It offers a window on a war that, absent some diplomatic miracle, is grinding toward a bloody and chaotic endgame.
The disorganized, Muslim-dominated opposition prompts several conclusions: First, the U.S. will have limited influence, even if it steps up covert involvement over the next few months. Second, the post-Assad situation may be as chaotic and dangerous as the civil war itself. The Muslim rebel groups will try to claim control of Assad’s powerful arsenal, including chemical weapons, posing new dangers.
Although the Syrian revolution is 2 years old, the rebel forces still haven’t formed a unified command. Gen. Salim Idriss, commander of the Free Syrian Army, has tried to coordinate the fighters. But this remains a bottom-up rebellion, with towns and regions forming battalions that have merged into larger coalitions. These coalitions have tens of thousands of fighters. But they lack anything approaching the discipline of a normal army.
Even though the rebels have only loose coordination, they have become a potent force. They have seized control of most of Aleppo and northern Syria, and they are tightening their grip on Damascus, controlling many of the access routes east and south of the city, according to rebel sources. Free Syrian Army leaders believe that the battle for Damascus will reach its climax in the next two to three months.
Rebel shells have hit landmarks in central Damascus, such as the Sheraton Hotel and the neighborhood of Abou Roummaneh, where many diplomats are based. To the east, rebels now appear to control Ghoutha, which commands eastern access to the city, and are firing on the Damascus airport. To the west, they are reportedly shelling the neighborhood of Mezzeh.
The lineup of opposition military groups is confusing to outsiders, but rebel sources say there are several major factions.
The biggest umbrella group is called Al-Jabha li-Tahrir Souriyya al-Islamiyya. It has about 37,000 fighters, drawn from four main sub-groups based in different parts of the country. These Saudi-backed groups are not hardcore Islamists, but are more militant than the political coalition headed by Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, who last week took Syria’s seat in the Arab League.
The second-largest rebel coalition is more extreme and is dominated by hardcore Salafist Muslims. Its official name – Al-Jabhat al-Islamiyya li-Tahrir Souriyya – is almost identical to that of the Saudi-backed group. Rebel sources count 11 different brigades from around the country that have merged to form this second coalition. Financing comes from wealthy Saudi, Kuwaiti and other Gulf Arab individuals. Rebel sources estimate about 13,000 Salafist fighters are gathered under this second umbrella.
A third rebel group, known as Ahfad al-Rasoul, is funded by Qatar. It has perhaps 15,000 fighters.
The most dangerous group in the mix is the the Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. By one rebel estimate, it has grown to include perhaps 6,000 fighters. But this group, perhaps fearing that it will be targeted by Western counterterrorism forces, is said to be keeping its head down – and perhaps commingling with the Salafist umbrella group.
Idriss and his Free Syrian Army command about 50,000 more fighters, rebel sources say.
Realistically, the best hope for U.S. policy is to press the Saudi-backed coalition and its 37,000 fighters, to work under the command of Idriss and the Free Syrian Army. That would bring a measure of order – and would open the way for Idriss to negotiate a military transition government that would include reconcilable elements of Assad’s army.
Ria Novosti (Russian press Agency, April 5, 2013)
Moscow believes the United Nations is disrupting an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria under pressure of “certain states,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday. “We cannot but make a conclusion that under the pressure of certain states the UN Secretariat has adopted an unconstructive and inconsistent stance and is basically disrupting the investigation into particular reports of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria on March 19, which could be verified at this stage,” the statement said. The Russian Foreign Ministry has criticized the UN move as “unacceptable and intolerable” and called on the organization to act on the principles of “impartiality.”
Syria’s authorities accused opposition militants of deploying chemical weapons in an attack near the northern city of Aleppo on March 19 that state media reports claimed at least 25 lives and seriously injured more than 100.
The rebels have denied the allegation and instead accused the Syrian military of launching a Scud missile with a chemical warhead.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on March 21 that the United Nations will open an independent investigation into the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria as soon as possible.
However, later Ban Ki-moon, “under pressure from Western members of the Council,” took an “unjustified step” of broadening the mandate of the mission in an effort to set as its task the investigation of all other alleged cases of chemical weapons use in Syria, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement last week.
Lukashevich described Ban’s approach to the issue as “counterproductive,” saying there is no information regarding any other incidents of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Echourouq (Algerian Daily, April 4, 2013)
A Syrian government delegation arrived in Algeria to discuss the possible participation of African countries in mediation efforts to end the conflict in Syria. Algeria seeks to play the role of mediator between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the rebels to stop the war. The delegation consists of five members, including members of the ruling Baath party, officers of the security services and a representative of the administration of the province of Aleppo, theater of heavy fighting between the army and anti-Assad.
Unlike the Gulf countries that have recalled their ambassadors from Syria, Algeria has maintained its representative in Damascus and continues to provide humanitarian assistance to Syria