NCF daily Report on Syrian Issue – The opposition – Report dated 20 July 2012 (early morning)
The Opposition perspective
This report profiles the perspectives of a number of Syrian opposition groups, both internal and external.
· Fighting continues in the capital as the situation in Damascus remains highly volatile. There are clashes in multiple neighbourhoods as the city remains on lock-down. The FSA says 5,000 fighters are on their way to Damascus to reinforce the rebels. In an attempt to stop any support reaching rebel fighters, roads in an out of the capital remain blocked. Clashes have also taken place in the affluent Mezzah area, south of the city centre, the “Mayfair of Damascus” which is overlooked by the presidential palace, and where small groups of rebel fighters seized a number of buildings. The battles are ongoing in scattered neighbourhoods in the City suburbs, including some districts quite close to the city centre.
1. The Free Syrian Army
The Free Syrian Army told the NCF that they launched the “Damascus Volcano and Earthquakes of Syria” operation on Monday. An attack on Syrian forces and security stations in order to take control of the capital. According to the FSA this has been a controlled and coordinated attack, moving the battle to the capital. Colonel Kassem Saadeddine, from the FSA battalion in Homs, said: "We have a clear plan to control the whole of Damascus. We only have light weapons, but it's enough."
The FSA has claimed full responsibility for the killings of Assef Shawkat, Daud Rajha. With these events the “FSA has sent a message to Assad and has warned all those who did not take them seriously”. For them this is “the final battle” and “Assad will have to step down or die”.
According to one of our FSA sources the situation now on the ground is very difficult and they “fear the use of chemical weapons by government”. Although the fighting is very intense the FSA tells us the government is losing control of the situation and of their own armed forces. According to our FSA source, “soldiers in Damascus are defecting, giving their weapons to the rebels and giving them access to their tanks”. They tell the NCF that their attacks in Damascus have all been very well planned and successful so far targeting important government buildings. They feel very confident and believe they will “eventually liberate Damascus from Assad’s oppression”. They have asked the Syrian army to surrender and join them. They made a public statement where they announced "the encirclement of all security, military and shabiha checkpoints across Syria, and the entry into fierce combat with them in order to eliminate them." The FSA attacked and took control of the border crossings into Iraq and Turkey at the same time as Syrian TV was broadcasting pictures of Bashar Al Assad calmly swearing in the new Defence Minister back in Damascus.
Fighting started in Damascus on Sunday afternoon after opposition groups were seen advancing near Midan and staging an assault. They were “engaged by regime forces, which have so far been unable to rout them despite superior firepower”.
The Free Syrian Army claim to still dominate Al Midan district and to have destroyed several armoured vehicles and tanks. They reported heavy clashes in most districts of Damascus (Al Midan, Kafrsooseh, Barzeh, Al Qaboon, Jobar, Al Qadam, Al 'Asalee and Rakn Al Deen).
Free Syrian Army branches operate independently, each with their own structure and tactics. According to FSA leaders, only central Damascus is without such a force due to difficult conditions and the overwhelming security presence there. They claim that cities like Homs, Hama and Zabadani have enough men and resources to stand up to government forces; others such as Qaboun, Harasta, Hammuriyah and Saqba have the FSA to monitor the streets in the evenings and to protect civilians during protests. Each branch intentionally operates independently of the others. “In the present security climate, the golden rule is: the less one knows the better”. Such independence makes it nearly impossible to name FSA members from other cities. The NCF’s inside source who provides logistical support for the FSA said that there are “20 main branches of FSA throughout the country and 450 subsidiary branches under them. In addition, there are thousands of affiliated safe houses”.
Provincial military councils operate under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA ), but make their own operational decisions. Viable provincial military councils have formed in Homs, Hama, Idlib, Deraa, and Damascus. Each military council, or majlis askeri, represents a collection of effective, pre-existing FSA battalions. Each military council coordinates with their political opposition counterparts, the provincial revolutionary councils, or majlis thawar. Some powerful and established rebel organizations have not accepted their military council’s leadership, but enough rebel units have backed the councils to give them legitimacy.
The FSA said they had intensified their offensive, declaring the latest phase of their offensive would "liberate" Damascus.
2. The LOCAL COORDINATION COMMITTEES (LCCs)
The NCF’s own LCC source describes Wednesday’s blast that killed three important Syrian ministers in Damascus as a ‘tipping point’. He said that, “The LCC are in no way claiming responsibility for the blast but feel excited and optimistic about the incident and the way it has changed the dynamic of the whole revolution”. Our source went on to say that ‘when a city reaches the point Damascus has, there is no going back’ and that he felt the conflict there would continue.
The LCCs called for the Syrian people to persevere and not give up hope that the government will be overthrown, and that it essential that the Syrian people do not turn on one another and ‘not succumb to troublemaking impulses’.
The NCF’s LCC source told us that “the violence that broke out in Damascus was due to government forces entering the capital with tanks”. According the LCC there were already ‘dead bodies on the streets as a result of the violent shelling’.
The LCC (which makes no distinction between rebel and civilian dead) announced (this Friday morning) a total count for the number killed nationwide yesterday (Thursday) as 217. s from Sunday, at 72 people.or casualty figures from Sunday, at 72 people. communty mains unclear who is responsiblef
3. The Kurdish opposition
The PKK (Kurdistan’s Workers Party) which is the most powerful of Syria’s Kurdish political blocs, has remained close to the Syrian Government. President al-Assad has allowed numerous PKK bases to develop in the country. The non PKK groups say that the “PKK is working as an extension of the Syrian forces controlling Kurdish areas”. Tensions between the PKK and other Kurdish groups in Syria have grown. This has resulted in violent clashes between the two Kurdish blocs (the PKK and the KNC or Kurdish National Council).
PYD (the PKK political wing) remains hostile to the KNC, although the PYD state they do adopt the same principles as the KNC. The PYD stated that it is working towards a democratic Syria through the use of negotiations and peaceful demonstrations.
Kurdish youth in the town of Qamishli have again taken the streets demanding international intervention to end the conflict in Syria.
4. The external opposition
Earlier this week some elements of the external opposition, including the Syrian National Council were invited to talks with Moscow, the first of their kind. Abdulbaset Sieda, head of the SNC, said he aimed to “influence Moscow into dropping their support for Assad, and realize that forty years of tyranny should come to an end”. Moscows’ plan however, was to make the external opposition agree to talks with the Assad government, in an attempt to resolve the conflict peacefully.
In addition to holding talks with Lavrov, the various delegations also held talks with Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian special presidential representative for the Middle East. Afterwards Sieda said that the Russians had not changed their opinion and therefore were responsible for the suffering of the Syrian people.
The Russians meanwhile issued statements saying they would not allow UN chapter VII to be evoked facilitating further sanctions (and theoretically military action in extremis) against Assad’s government. The UN vote on the British backed resolution invoking chapter VII of the UN charter, was vetoed by Russia (and China) once more. The SNC said that since the UN had failed to protect the Syrian people, they would take matters into their own hands, “exploring alternative ways to end Assad’s regime”. These methods would entail “using international and regional relations to provide humanitarian protection to the Syrian people”. SNC spokesperson Bassma Kodmani declared that the third veto from the Russians was a “blank cheque to continue the violence, crushing the population”.
Abdulbaset Sieda made a plea to the US administration to act more forcefully in Syria, and not worry if the decision made will affect President Obama’s upcoming election. In another declaration, Sieda said he wanted the US and western countries to “uphold their responsibilities under the UN, invoke article 7 and stop the killing of the Syrian people”. Specifically addressing America, Sieda went on to question Obama’s morality, wondering how a “superpower could ignore the killing of tens and thousands of Syrians because of an election campaign that a president may win or lose”. Concluding the statement, Sieda declared that it was necessary to work outside the scope of the Security Council.
Meanwhile elements of the secular opposition from the National Democratic Council said, that though the situation was terrible and desperately tragic, it was not a civil war. “A civil war is when neighbour kills neighbour, we are not there yet”.