|Col. Mustafa Hashim (top right) being interviewed in Latakia province last night|
I suspect something fishy is going on among Syrian opposition leaders.
Five days into the armed opposition’s spectacular advances on the mountains of the coastal province of Latakia, Bashar al-Assad’s heartland, bigwigs in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian National Coalition (SNC) are believed to be lobbying for cessation of the campaign.
A comment today -- signed by the pseudonym “Sary Alsory” and carried on the SNC’s Facebook page – said: “Some Supreme Military Command and Coalition members revealed their ugly face and betrayal of the revolution and the nation by signing a document calling for a moratorium on the coastal campaign. We hope to publish the names of all signatories of the document.”
Interviewed live on air last night, the Latakia campaign’s field commander of the central western front, Col. Mustafa Hashim, said his men were being deliberately starved of arms and munitions.
“Our (western) front has not been treated on par with the other fronts since our (FSA) meeting in (the Turkish resort of) Antalya” last December, Col. Hashim told Melad Fadl, his interviewer from Aljazeera TV on the Latakia mountains.
The Antalya meeting organized the FSA into five fronts: the northern front (Aleppo and Idlib), the eastern front (Raqqa-Deir Ezzor and al-Hasakah), the western front (Hama-Latakia-Tartus), the central front (Homs-Rastan) and the southern front (Damascus-Dar al-Sweida).
Asked who was starving his western front of arms and munitions, Col. Hashim said cryptically: “The backer countries.
“The Unified Command apportions the military aid it receives. I voiced my objections at previous official meetings, saying I had my reservations about The Command unfairly arming one front at the expense of another. The coastal front has received very little.
“We have been hoarding arms and munitions and planning this offensive (since Antalya).
“The campaign we launched at 5 a.m. on August 4 is ongoing. The regime’s army has not been able to advance a single meter anywhere. The offensive shall continue until Syria’s complete liberation.”
Reacting to Col. Hashim’s remarks, Egyptian military strategy analyst Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Safwat el-Zayyat told Aljazeera’s news anchor: “Had the armed opposition opened the western front earlier, it could have helped the other fronts immensely.
“The coastal front is the revolution’s success story of the year. It seems the man, Mustafa Hashim, fears being starved of weapons.
“The big question is: Are revolution backers shying away from killing (Assad’s) hopes of a safe haven in a rump coastal state? Are they trying to stave off a sectarian bloodbath (in the Alawite stronghold), which is the regime’s recruitment reservoir, now that mountain villagers have started fleeing to Latakia city?
“True, FSA and SNC leaders might be trying to stave off a sectarian bloodbath. But at the same time, they have to realize the battle for the coastline will force the regime’s hand to defend its last place of refuge, which would greatly reduce pressure on the opposition in Homs, Damascus, Deraa, Aleppo and elsewhere.”
Within 24 hours of the Latakia offensive kicking off, Khaled Yacoub Oweis wrote in a Reuters dispatch, “A senior opposition figure, who declined to be named, said the United States, a main backer of the Free Syrian Army, is against targeting Latakia, because it could spark revenge attacks by Alawites against its majority Sunni population and add to an already huge refugee problem.
“Diplomats say the coastal area and its mountain villages could be the scene of a bloodbath against the region's Alawite population if Islamist hardliners end up eventually gaining the upper hand in the conflict.”
In Washington yesterday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told a press briefing former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford “is in Paris today and tomorrow. He’s meeting with members of the Syrian opposition to discuss the prospects of a Geneva conference.
“We remain committed to helping Syrians negotiate a political settlement along the lines of the June 2012 Geneva communiqué.
“In particular, Ambassador Ford is talking to them about the need for a unified opposition delegation headed by the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, which can strongly press the case for its vision of what a transition government – governing body should look like.”
Later in the day, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister said they were continuing to try to find common ground on Syria and other issues
“One thing I would emphasize is on Syria while Sergei and I do not always agree completely on responsibility for the bloodshed or on some of the ways forward, both of us and our countries agree that to avoid institutional collapse and descent into chaos, the ultimate answer is a negotiated political solution," Kerry said.
“Syria indeed is at the top of our agenda," Lavrov said through an interpreter. "The goal is the same we need to start a political process.”
However, Lavrov suggested the main cause for urgency in the Russian view is an influx of Islamic militant fighters into Syria.
“We need to stage Geneva-2 conference and in my view the most important task for Geneva-2 would be to honor the commitment of all G8 leaders...who called for the government and opposition to join efforts to fight terrorists and force them away from Syria,” the top Russian diplomat said. “Especially in light of assessments we've been hearing lately this is of course our top priority.”