Syrian rebels elect new military commander

AMMAN Sat Dec 8, 2012 1:26pm EST

1 of 13. Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Binish, near Idlib, December 7, 2012. The banner reads: 'No to peacekeepers in Syria'.

Credit: Reuters/Hamzeh Al-Binishi/Shaam News Network/Handout

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian rebel groups have chosen a former officer to head a new Islamist-dominated command, in a Western-backed effort to put the opposition's house in order as President Bashar al-Assad's army takes hits that could usher his downfall.

In Turkey, a newly formed joint command of Syrian rebel groups has chosen Brigadier Selim Idris, one of hundreds of officers who have defected from Assad's army, as its head, opposition sources said on Saturday.

Idris, whose home province of Homs has been at the forefront of the Sunni Muslim-led uprising, was elected by 30 military and civilian members of the joint military command after talks attended by Western and Arab security officials in the Turkish city of Antalya.

The unified command includes many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Salafists, who follow a puritanical interpretation of Islam. It excludes the most senior officers who have defected from Assad's military.

On the Damascus battlefront, Assad's forces used multiple rocket launchers on Saturday against several suburbs that have fallen to rebels who have fought their way to the edge of the city's international airport, where foreign carriers have suspended all flights.

Rebels, who have overrun several army bases near Damascus over the last month, appeared to be holding their ground, encircling a main military base in the northeastern suburb of Harasta, known as "idarat al markabat", near the main highway to Aleppo, according to opposition campaigners.

"The fighters made slight progress today. They captured a weapons depot and got to a tank repair facility in the base, but all 20 tanks inside were inoperational," said Abu Ghazi, a rebel who was speaking from the area.

"The weather cleared and MiG fighters hit rebel positions around the base. Rocket launchers did not stop for the last three days. The site is crucial for the regime," he added.

BOMBARDMENT NEAR AIRPORT

Heavy army bombardment was also reported on the town of Harran al-Awamid near the airport, which is 20 kilometers southeast of Damascus, and on the suburb of Hajar al-Aswad, at the southern entrance of the capital, which has been at the forefront of the Sunni-led revolt against Assad.

Western officials have begun speaking about faster change on the ground in a conflict that is becoming increasingly sectarian and deepening the Shi'ite-Sunni fault lines in the Middle East, a hallmark of politics in the region since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Like his father, the late President Hafez al-Assad who ruthlessly put down an Islamist challenge, the younger Assad is portraying himself as the only hope for survival of the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated power in majority Sunni Syria since the 1960s.

Moscow, Assad's strongest foreign backer, and Washington, which says it supplies only "non-lethal" aid to the rebels, sounded downbeat about the prospects of a diplomatic push to end the conflict after talks this week.

The head of Germany's foreign intelligence agency said Assad's government is its final stages and will be unable to survive as more parts of the country slip from his control.

"Armed rebels are coordinating better, which is making their fight against Assad more effective," Gerhard Schindler told the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung newspaper, in an interview made public on Saturday.

"Assad's regime will not survive. "Evidence is mounting that the regime in Damascus is now in its final phase," Schindler said

Setbacks for the Alawite-led military, whose core units are stationed in Damascus and on hill tops surrounding the capital, have raised Western concerns that the ruling elite may use chemical weapons to turn the tide of the war.

In a letter to the United Nations Security Council published by official state media, the Syrian foreign ministry said "Syria will not use chemical weapons under any circumstances".

"We are seriously afraid that some countries that support terrorism would supply chemical weapons to the terrorist armed groups and claim that the Syrian government is the one that is using them," the letter said.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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Comments (12)
Slammy wrote:
@pendingapproval

It is not Reuters fault Mr. Al Assad, aka The Cowardly Lion, is a weakling. If he would allow Reuters to report in Syria maybe they could get info from other sources. Logistics are not relevant to you, are they?
But you are coming across very soar that your side (which consists of army of 160,000 with over a million reserves) is losing to a few armed gangs. Let me ask you this, do you think the Syrian army stupid or just incompetent? I think stupid but I am leaving open the possibility of ineptness. Either way, they are not very effective, are they?

Questions:

1) Is Syria at peace?
2) Is Syria in a civil war?
3) Do you know the difference between a terrorist and an insurgent? Please provide example if so.

Insurgents! You guys are doing so well you have bloggers attacking Reuters for your successes. Keep it up!

Dec 08, 2012 11:37am EST  --  Report as abuse
Slammy wrote:
Protesters in Kafranbel in the northern Idlib province have two bloodthirsty banner messages from this week’s protest.

One says: “Peace will prevail the moment Assad’s head is crushed. Let you peacekeepers look for peace to keep”.

The other says: “By beheading al-Assad terrorism will become a disgusting folk tale”.

The second message is a little catchy if spoken a few times.

Dec 08, 2012 1:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Slammy wrote:
@pendingapproval

Please name any weapons the fsa are using that were made the USA. Or point me to a youtube video showing the rebels using AR-15′s or driving Abram tanks. I have watched many videos and have yet to see any western weaponry in insurgent hands. Maybe, in addition to blaming Reuters for the below average iq Syrian army, you should complain to Russia and China for poor arms control. If those two quit making the guns, bullets and aa missiles the insurgents will be in real trouble. I am sure the regime’s inability to not hold their military bases and their short sightedness in not destroying the Sa-16 and Sa-24 missiles is not helping the Cowardly Lion. Reuters fault too?
I still cannot figure out why the regime would leave and/or not destroy their aa weaponry when they knew their bases were under attack. Do you know why the regime would allow these weapons to fall into insurgents hands? Stupidity? Incompetence? Apathy? O well, you can lead a Camel to water….

Dec 08, 2012 1:41pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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