Syria destroys the Israeli domination illusions

By Ghaleb Kandil

Israeli think tanks thought that the events in Syria have imposed changes in favor of Israel. Zionist leaders have imagined having eliminated the results of Resistance victories in Lebanon and Palestine, which imposed new strategic deterrent equations, especially since the defeat of Israel in July 2006.

Based on this evaluation, the Israeli services were involved in the war against Syria by executing sabotage operations against the Syrian national defense system, and directly supporting terrorist groups in the Syrian hinterland. At the same time, Israeli troops openly moved on the line in the Golan Heights to provide facilities and protection to terrorists. In coordination with their Emirati, Qatari, Saudi and Jordanian friends, the Israelis have become full partners in the aggression against Syria, after having reconciled with Turkey, under the auspices of U.S. President Barak Obama. The operating centers set on Turkish territory play a leading role in the destruction of Syria.

In this regional climate Israeli leaders have organized a series of maneuvers and military training for offensive purposes against Lebanon and Syria and have conducted joint exercises with troops from Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf countries, with the participation of NATO units. The beginning of a major military intervention in Syria appeared on the horizon, after the exhumation of the chemical weapons argument.

However, Syria, with its army and its regional and international alliances, has shown great resilience and immunity to military action projects. The West and its auxiliaries passed then to another form of aggression, and Israelis launched air raids against Damascus as a test of the ability of Israel to intervene permanently in Syria under an American coverage by Obama in person. A sort of proxy war, because the United States are unable to start new conflicts after their defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, because of the new balance of power, Washington is more likely to reach compromises and accept the Geneva Agreement without preconditions.

Syrian strategic response to Israeli attacks will strengthen the balance of power at the expense of Israel. The situation is even more favorable to the axis of resistance than it was before the onset of the global war against Syria, two years ago. This response is based on the concept of turning the threat into an opportunity, as rightly said Resistance leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. This response is based on structural changes in balances underlying the Arab-Israeli conflict:

1-Reinforcement of the deterrence capacities of the resistance after the Syrian decision to provide qualitative weapons, capable of changing the balance of power with Israel.

2-Launch of Popular Resistance for the Liberation of the Golan, which benefit from the experience, support and capacity of the Lebanese resistance.

3-The instructions given to the Syrian strategic forces to retaliate immediately, without the need to return to the supreme command, to any new Israeli aggression.

4-The Syrian response has paved the way for a new era in the armed national struggle of the Palestinian people, through the opening of the Golan front.

In a desperate attempt to change this new balance of power, Turkey tried to exploit the attacks in the town of Rihaniya, accusing Syria of being responsible, even before the end of the investigation. This action shows that the coordination between Turkey and Israel reached high levels. But again, the response of the axis of the resistance and its allies was quick. Russia has responded by saying that the accusations against Syria aimed at torpedoing the international conference on Syria, agreed between Moscow and Washington.

Then the Syrian information minister accused the Turkish government of having turned the border regions sanctuary for international terrorism. Ankara facilitates the trafficking of arms, explosives, car bombs, money and criminals to Syria. Therefore, added Omran al-Zohbi, the Turkish government and its leader assume a direct moral and political responsibility vis-à-vis the Turkish and Syrian peoples in the violence they suffer. "Syria has not committed and will never commit such an act because our values do not allow us," assured the minister, calling for the departure of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyeb Erdogan, head, according to him, of the misfortunes that befall Syria.


HASAN NASRALLAH, Hezbollah leader

«One of the goals of Israel is for Syria to be out of the circle of the resistance and stop President Bashar al-Assad from sending weapons to Lebanon. However, the Israeli attack, which only caused four deaths, will backfire on Israel. Israeli airstrikes were aimed at achieving two objectives: neutralizing Syria in the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict, and preventing Hezbollah from further bolstering its arsenal. Syria’s first response to Israel’s airstrikes was to tell Israel that if your goal was to prevent the capabilities of the resistance from growing, then take note, Syria will provide the resistance with sophisticated weapons that the resistance has never had before. We mean game-changing. Syria’s second strategic response is to open the Golan front and to open the door to popular resistance in the Golan. The third response is to prepare rocket launch pads and give orders for firing missiles without returning to the command. This has frightened the Israelis who sent messages to calm the situation. We, the Lebanese resistance, are ready to receive any kind of game-changing weapons, even if it upsets the balance of power with Israel. We deserve such weapons, and we will use them to defend our people and our country. Just as Syria stood by the Lebanese people and gave moral and financial backing to its people’s resistance, we announce that we stand by the side of the Syrian popular resistance. We will afford moral, financial and logistical support, cooperation and coordination and for the liberation of the Syrian Golan. Everyone knows how much Syria has given to the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance. In all of Arab history, no other Arab regime has given us as much as President Bashar Assad’s regime has. Everything that is happening today indicates that Syria has a strong leadership that is managing the battles with the enemy in a wise, calm and courageous manner that will achieve victory in the future, God willing. It’s shameful the U.S. is the one seeking Syria’s interests while the Arabs seem to be the ones destroying Syria, which is something serving the enemy’s interests (...) Given the domestic and regional circumstances ... there should be a government of true national partnership and national unity rather than a government of challenge. Hezbollah will vote for the Orthodox Gathering’s draft law because we have already given our word on that and we were clear.»

FAYSAL AL-MOQDAD, Syrian deputy Foreign minister

«The instruction has been made to respond immediately to any new Israeli attack without additional instruction from any higher leadership, and our retaliation will be strong and will be painful against Israel (...) We were ready and we are always ready, right now, to receive the delegation that was set up by Ban Ki-moon to investigate what happened in Khan al-Assal. The use of chemical weapons was a "red line for President Assad

SERGEI LAVROV, Russian Former minister

«Russia is not planning to sell — Russia has sold and signed contracts a long time ago, and is completing supplies of the equipment — which is anti-aircraft systems, according to the already signed contracts. This is not forbidden by any international laws, this is defensive weaponry. It is designed for Syria as an importer to have in this situation an opportunity to defend itself from air strikes which, as we know, is not a completely fantastical scenario

BISHARA RAI, Maronite patriarch of Antioch and all the East

«I appeal to the international community and say to countries that fan the flames in Syria stop supporting and financing the killing and stop arming terrorism and destabilize the country

MICHEL AOUN, leader of the Free patriotic Movement

«The Israeli aggression against Syria is a declaration of war as it came 40 years after the armistice. What does the UN to stop Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace. It is said that one hundred billion dollars have already been paid to Syrian rebels. That we are given 1% of this amount to help refugees. This will still have a billion dollars.»

SAMIR GEAGEA, Lebanese Forces leader

«It is impossible to continue with the 1960 law and we will persevere until a new electoral law is implemented. All political leaderships are seeking to reach an agreement over the electoral law as soon as possible before parliament’s plenary session on May 15. Voters should step up to their responsibilities in voting for the right candidates, since those they elect will reach positions of authority. Your destiny is in your hands.»

AMINE GEMAYEL, Kataeb party leader

«The Christians in Syria and the wider region are encountering a dangerous reality. I call on the international community to stop the hemorrhage taking place, protect emerging democracies and lift the violations against Christians who are an essential part of the makeup of the civilization of the region. We hope that the humanitarian disaster in Syria would be put to an end.»


• Car bombs have killed 46 people and injured 100 in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, near the Syrian border, Turkey’s interior minister says. Muammer Guler told Turkey’s NTV that two bombs had gone off in the town near the town hall and post office. The town is an entry-point for refugees from the war in Syria. Local people attacked cars with Syrian number-plates and Syrian refugees after the attack, according to local media. Emergency services looked for possible victims buried under the debris. Responding to news of the bombing, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would protect itself. "There may be those who want to sabotage Turkey’s peace, but we will not allow that," he said during a visit to Berlin. "No-one should attempt to test Turkey’s power. Our security forces will take all necessary measures." The Turkish government has been a key supporter of the Syrian opposition, and has allowed rebels as well as refugees on to its territory. But tensions in the Reyhanli area have been high for several weeks, reports say, with clashes between Turkish and Syrian youths.

• Speaker Nabih Berry said Lebanon should adopt a policy of neutrality except toward Arab states and its conflict with Israel. His remarks came after meeting with a delegation from the Kataeb Party who are seeking to incorporate the policy of disassociation from regional turmoil into the Constitution. “The neutrality we want cannot be taken from the principles of Austrian neutrality or one that reflects a foreign will,“ Berri said in a statement released by his office after the meeting. “In any case, the policy should include two exceptions: First related to Israel and second to the Arab countries because it is not acceptable to be neutral with Arab states that we are part of,“ he said, proposing a new form of the disassociation policy. According to Berri’s office, “Neutrality was proposed during National Dialogue [sessions] and Speaker Nabih then took the same position as that of former Patriarch Bulos al-Maoushi in 1958 when he said that we in Lebanon are all seekers of neutrality, but a neutrality that Lebanon approves should be by our free will in agreement and harmony with all Arab countries.“ “But internationalization and neutrality decided abroad cannot be accepted at all because that would mean putting us all under mandate,“ Berri’s statement added.

• The United Arab Emirates says three of its citizens are in custody in Tanzania in connection with a church bombing that killed two people and injured more than 50 others. The UAE Foreign Ministry did not make clear whether the three were additional suspects in Sunday’s attack in the northern city of Arusha, but it suggests they are among four alleged attackers originally identified as Saudis. A total of six people have been arrested in the bombing, which occurred just before the Roman Catholic church’s inaugural Mass. The reason for the attack is still unclear, but Tanzania has been hit by sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims.

• Lebanese Military prosecutor Saqr Saqr on Friday indicted nine people of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian nationalities for plotting to carry out terrorist acts. The National News Agency reported that the charged, who belong to an armed group, have prepared, manufactured and transferred explosive devices from the Mieh Mieh Palestinian Refugee Camp, Khaldeh and Al-Rahab to the Beqaa with the aim of targeting various centers.




The option of the composition of government without an agreement is again bailed in Prime Minister-designate circles. According to prominent sources of 8 March, such a measure would be likely to cause a serious crisis in the political and national level. Tammam Salam did not merely oppose an end of inadmissibility to the demands of the Free Patriotic Movement and March 8 Forces and take in consideration the requests made by March 14, he went to brandish implicitly the spectrum of the establishment of a government without any agreement by announcing that he "will not wait long to form the government."



Lebanon’s key governmental and security institutions are grinding to a halt one by one – the Najib Mikati cabinet resigned, parliament’s term ends in June, and now the Military Council that commands the armed forces has become defunct.

Lebanon’s Military Council, which manages the affairs of the armed forces, can no longer meet after three of its members, having reached legal retirement age, were forced to retire. As of yet, there are no clear plans for their replacements.

The retirements have the council falling short of the quorum necessary for convening and issuing decisions. This could very well lead to the complete paralysis of the armed forces, as the council not only directs the army’s movements, but is responsible for providing the military with everything it needs from food rations to weapons.

After the outgoing Mikati government failed to replace the retired officers on May 2, Lebanese military chief General Jean Kahwaji sent a letter to the Ministry of Defense noting that since the last council meeting on April 30, the army command has received over 30 unresolved files involving such wide-ranging issues as hospitalization, medical supplies, and gas distribution.

In the absence of the Military Council, the law does not provide an alternative authority – even temporarily – to conduct the military’s affairs. This has prompted Kahwaji to indirectly request that he be given the authority to facilitate the work of the council until three new officers are appointed.

Kahwaji did not openly make such a request in his letter to the defense ministry. Instead, he noted that since the resigned Mikati government may not have the authority to appoint new members to the council, the ministry needs to find a mechanism which would allow it to meet.

Kahwaji himself will also reach the legally-set retirement age in September 2013. Sources close to the discussions suggest that Kahwaji will likely be given an extension if the council’s authority is in fact handed over to him.

Two solutions are now being floated to resolve the issue. The first involves a decision on the part of the resigned government to simply appoint three new officers to the council, while the second would occur outside the scope of the cabinet whereby Kahwaji would be given the authority to continue the council’s proceedings temporarily.

AL AKHBAR (MAY 10, 2013)


Not even the gloomiest pessimists would’ve predicted that a few days from now, Lebanon’s Future Movement would have to face a vote over an electoral law that, if passed, would take away more than half its parliamentary seats. The proposed Orthodox Gathering Law has caused panic in the ranks of the Future Movement, which is now mobilizing to thwart the bill.

Supporters of the Future Movement in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli can hardly believe that the proposed Orthodox electoral law may pass in parliament on Wednesday of next week. They cannot even accept the mere idea of the controversial bill, let alone the possibility that it may soon become a reality.

Many find themselves in shock that if the elections were to be held according to the Orthodox law, which is based on proportional representation where sects can only vote for candidates of the same sect, their pool of candidates would be limited to competing for the 11 Sunni seats. Of these, no more than 7, at the very best, would go to the Future Movement, with other seats going to the other Sunni forces in Tripoli.

By contrast, non-Sunni candidates in the 2005 general election in Tripoli and North Lebanon were at the mercy of Sunni voters. At the time, a majority of the Sunni community cast their votes along sectarian lines in the wake of the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Accordingly, only those who had the consent of the Sunni community won seats.

The 2009 elections only brought more of the same. True, the so-called Ghazi Kanaan electoral law, used in the elections of 2000 and 2005, had been shelved. But the 1960 electoral law still meant that Sunni voters determined electoral outcomes in the North.

According to 2009 voter registration lists, Sunnis accounted for 53 percent of the North’s voters, even though the Sunni share of sect-assigned seats was no more than 11 out of 28, or 39 percent. No attempt was made to address the imbalance in the weight carried by the votes of different communities. Instead, Sunni voters continued to have the final say, even for candidates of other sects.

In the districts of Tripoli, Miniyeh-Danniyeh, and Akkar, nothing could trump the majority Sunni vote. Non-Sunni candidates, whether Maronite, Orthodox, or Alawi, were doomed to fail if they did not enjoy the approval of the Future Movement. It goes without saying that the Sunni candidates running against Future had no chance either.

In the districts of Koura and Zghorta, and to some extent Batroun, pro-Future Sunni voters had a strong impact on the results. Only the district of Bcharre was able to escape the Sunni ‘trump card’ in the North, as only a very small number of voters in this district are not Maronites.

If parliament passes the Orthodox electoral bill, Sunni domination of the vote will be a thing of the past. Future supporters would inevitably see their number of MPs shrink, even within the Sunni community. This has prompted a high-ranking source in Future to declare that “if the Orthodox law passes, more than half of our deputies would disappear.“

By the names and numbers, Future would find itself unable to impose Orthodox MPs such as Riad Rahal or Nicolas Ghosn; Maronite MPs like Hadi Hobeich; or Alawi MPs such as Khader Habib and Bader Wannous. At best, those MPs can command between 3 and 20 percent of the vote in their own communities.

While Future may not care much for the votes of the Christian minority in Miniyeh-Danniyeh, which has a limited impact, it would be disappointed to find out that the votes of the Sunni minority in Koura, Zghorta, and Batroun would become completely outside of the candidates’ calculations.

Future’s losses would not stop there. The group’s biggest setback would take place in the Sunni community itself. Future would no longer be able to claim that it is the sole representative of the Sunni community.

Meanwhile, al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, Lebanon’s foremost Sunni Islamist group, would probably demand more from Future in return for an electoral alliance. For one thing, al-Jamaa’s influence extends throughout Lebanon’s Sunni community, so tapping its popular base to help Future would come with a big price tag – much bigger than the one seat occupied today by MP Imad al-Hout.

AL AKHBAR (MAY 8, 2013)


Following Israel’s attack on Damascus this past weekend, Tehran affirmed its full support for Syria. Tehran recognizes the core of the equation: the Israeli attack was on Syria, but the real target was Iran and Hezbollah.

This is the gist of the message from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, relayed by his special envoy Ali Akbar Salehi to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Salehi informed Assad, on Khamenei’s behalf, of “a message of solidarity and full and unlimited support from Iran, politically, militarily, and economically, to the Syrian leadership and people, against the takfiris, terrorists, Israel, the US, and all who dare attack this country.“

Informed Iranian sources described the letter as “conforming“ with the latest statements of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. “It is a direct letter from [Khamenei] to President Assad,“ the source explained. “And it comes following the recent Israeli aggression on Damascus.“

On Tuesday, Salehi made a quick visit to Jordan where he imparted to Jordanian King Abdullah “a clear and unequivocal message of Iran’s strong commitment to protect Assad and Syria,“ according to the same Iranian source.

You must be aware that if the US decides to go to war with Syria, your kingdom will go in the process,“ the message declared. It warned the Jordanian king of the “American trap that threatens your throne and will wipe Jordan off the map.“ “The Islamic Republic is ready to provide you what you need in face of pressures and to avoid the conflict being transferred inside Jordan,“ the message relayed. It concluded by maintaining “Iran’s willingness to transfer Jordan to our camp, if you had the will to do so.“

Jordanian sources knowledgeable of the visit said Salehi’s message came directly from Supreme Leader Khamenei personally, indicating that it was “resolute but polite.“

The sources, who are close to the Jordanian royal court, explained that “the king was friendly and listened to the Iranian message. He assured Salehi that Jordan will not be interfering in Syria.“ The meeting with Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour was “routine and discussed economic cooperation, where they agreed to hold a meeting for the Jordanian Iranian Higher Council.“

The meeting with Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh, on the other hand, “was not polite,“ the sources explained. “His words were hostile and he brought up the question of Bahrain and the Iranian dispute with the UAE.“

The sources indicated that “this is the first time Iran has presented a serious offer to help, formally, and within protocol. Past offers had been for show only.“

Informed Iranian sources maintained that the reply to the Israeli attack will be on two levels. The first will be “blows under the belt in several locations.“ This could be inside Syria under the policy of “contain, squeeze, and crush,“ or outside, but “without upsetting the terror balance.“

In this context, the sources revealed that Tehran “received a message from the US and Russia that the Israeli attack was in isolation and there is no intent to declare war on Syria.“ The sources maintained that the Sunday attack on Syria was part of “an attempt to enter Damascus and cause mayhem before the meeting between US Secretary Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. But the attempted coup was aborted.“

According to the sources, the second possible reply will be preparations for a Syrian meeting in Tehran. The Syrian regime will be represented by ministers Ali Haidar and Qadri Jamil, indicating that the visit of Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian to Syria falls within this framework.

Preparations are also underway to hold an international meeting for the friends of the Syrian people in Tehran in around two weeks,“ the sources revealed. “More than 40 countries will be invited and the Islamic Republic will use it to announce a new initiative for a Syrian solution.“

The participating countries will include the UAE, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, central Asian republics, India, Malaysia, and Pakistan.

Perhaps one of the two most notable statements to come out of Tehran in the past few days was the announcement of Iranian deputy defense minister Hossein Salami that Iran expanded its national security sphere to the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean.

The second was Iranian Minister of Defense Ahmed Vahidi’s announcement that Iran is ready to train the Syrian army.


(MAY 10, 2013)

According to reliable information, the designated Prime Minister Tammam Salam, is preparing to announce next Tuesday, the composition of his government of 24 members who will not include representatives of 8-March. The same sources added that the direct and indirect negotiations between Salam and March 8 ended with no results and the climate between the two parties was recently negative, the protagonists being attached to their positions. This prompted Mr. Salam to send a message to the leaders of the March 8, of its intention to go ahead with the formation of his government, even if it meant considering the absence of this component the Executive.

Some sources have reported strong pressures exerted on Salam at this time to push him to announce the formation of a government within 48 hours. But until Thursday night, he was still hesitant because of doubts expressed by the Speaker of the House, Nabih Berry, about centrists and about Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who talked about a national unity government, which brought the government negotiations back to square one. According to reports, the President of the Republic, Michel Sleiman, was not enthusiastic about the idea of a government without agreement in the current circumstances.


The Lebanese Army dismantled during the holidays a dangerous terrorist network whose aim was to carry out criminal acts to undermine the security and stability of the country. The cell was composed of four individuals, Lebanese and Syrians, who are being interrogated by military intelligence, who were arrested in Beirut after a long surveillance.

Well informed sources reported that the mission of this unit was to conduct terrorist operations against the barracks of the Lebanese Army, in cooperation with terrorist elements of al-Nosra Front based in the Palestinian camp Ain el-Hilweh. The cell members were planning to repeat the scenario of assassinations, such as those experienced by Lebanon in recent years. A series of politicians and security officials were on the list of targets of this group in order to cause unrest in the Muslim and Christian Street.

The same sources added that terrorists reside in Ain el-Hilweh, in Tripoli and in the high mountains of Ersal, and working to establish a branch of al-Nosra in the camp. They also started the military training to reactivate the military wing of Al-Qaeda.


Three fighters from the northern city of Tripoli were killed in Syria and the status of 36 other Lebanese fighters remain unknown, a security source told The daily Star Friday.

The source identified the victims as Hani Barakat, Hussein Mansour and Issam Maarabani. The three men were buried in Syria, added the source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Families of 36 men from Tripoli also reported they had lost all contact with their sons, who are in their twenties, since they left to fight in Syria some two weeks ago, the security source said.

It wasn’t clear when or where the men were killed. Numbers of Salafists fighters from north Lebanin have joined Syrian rebels in their fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Fighting has recently raged near border towns with reports of Lebanese parties participating.

Recent fighting in the border town of Qusayr, with reports of Hezbollah participating, prompted a number of calls for militant jihad by radical Sunni preachers in Lebanon. The preachers called for young men to fight against the regime in Syria and they held enlistment drives. Many other parties are also now publicly supporting their favored side in Syria as the conflict has worn on.

Late last year a group of more than 20 Lebanese men were killed in an ambush by regime forces in the Syrian town of Tal Kalakh, near the border with Lebanon.

There is not a single word from them,“ the source said about the missing Lebanese.



Syria’s main armed opposition group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is losing fighters and capabilities to Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist organisation with links to al-Qaida that is emerging as the best-equipped, financed and motivated force fighting Assad’s regime.

Evidence of the growing strength of al-Nusra, gathered from Guardian interviews with FSA commanders across Syria, underlines the dilemma for the US, Britain and other governments as they ponder the question of arming anti-Assad rebels.

Illustrating their plight, FSA commanders say that entire units have gone over to al-Nusra while others have lost a quarter or more of their strength to them recently.

"Fighters feel proud to join al-Nusra because that means power and influence," said Abu Ahmed, a former teacher from Deir Hafer who now commands an FSA brigade in the countryside near Aleppo. "Al-Nusra fighters rarely withdraw for shortage of ammunition or fighters and they leave their target only after liberating it," he added. "They compete to carry out martyrdom [suicide] operations."

Abu Ahmed and others say the FSA has lost fighters to al-Nusra in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Deir al-Zor and the Damascus region. Ala’a al-Basha, commander of the Sayyida Aisha brigade, warned the FSA chief of staff, General Salim Idriss, about the issue last month. Basha said 3,000 FSA men have joined al-Nusra in the last few months, mainly because of a lack of weapons and ammunition. FSA fighters in the Banias area were threatening to leave because they did not have the firepower to stop the massacre in Bayda, he said.

The FSA’s Ahrar al-Shimal brigade joined al-Nusra en masse while the Sufiyan al-Thawri brigade in Idlib lost 65 of its fighters to al-Nusra a few months ago for lack of weapons. According to one estimate the FSA has lost a quarter of all its fighters.

Al-Nusra has members serving undercover with FSA units so they can spot potential recruits, according to Abu Hassan of the FSA’s al-Tawhid Lions brigade.

Ideology is another powerful factor. "Fighters are heading to al-Nusra because of its Islamic doctrine, sincerity, good funding and advanced weapons," said Abu Islam of the FSA’s al-Tawhid brigade in Aleppo. "My colleague who was fighting with the FSA’s Ahrar Suriya asked me: ’I’m fighting with Ahrar Suriya brigade, but I want to know if I get killed in a battle, am I going to be considered as a martyr or not?’ It did not take him long to quit FSA and join al-Nusra. He asked for a sniper rifle and got one immediately."

FSA commanders say they have suffered from the sporadic nature of arms supplies. FSA fighter Adham al-Bazi told the Guardian from Hama: "Our main problem is that what we get from abroad is like a tap. Sometimes it’s turned on, which means weapons are coming and we are advancing, then, all of a sudden, the tap dries up, and we stop fighting or even pull out of our positions."

The US, which has outlawed al-Nusra as a terrorist group, has hesitated to arm the FSA, while the western and Gulf-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition has tried to assuage concerns by promising strict control over weapons. "We are ready to make lists of the weapons and write down the serial numbers," Idriss told NPR at the weekend. "The FSA is very well organised and when we distribute weapons and ammunition we know exactly to which hands they are going."

Syria’s government has capitalised successfully on US and European divisions over the weapons embargo by emphasising the "jihadi narrative" – as it has since the start of largely peaceful protests in March 2011. Assad himself claimed in a recent interview: "There is no FSA, only al-Qaida." Syrian state media has played up the recent pledge of loyalty by Jabhat al-Nusra to al-Qaida in Iraq.

"It is clear that fighters are moving from one group to another as one becomes more successful," said a diplomat who follows Syria closely. "But it’s very area-specific. You can’t talk about a general trend in which [Jabhat al-Nusra] has more momentum than others. It is true that some say JAN is cleaner and better than other groups, but there are as many stories about it being bad."



A leading member of a United Nations investigatory commission says there are “strong concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof“ that Syrian rebels have used the nerve agent sarin.

Carla del Ponte, a former prosecutor for U.N. tribunals investigating war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, made the comment in an interview Sunday with a Swiss television channel, the BBC reported.

The U.N. panel, known as the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, emphasized in a statement Monday that it had reached no conclusions about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.

I was a little bit stupefied by the first indications we got ... about the use of nerve gas by the opposition,“ Del Ponte told Swiss Italian broadcaster RSI.

She said the evidence emerged from interviews conducted by investigators with victims, physicians and others in neighboring countries.

The comments were a blow to opposition activists who have alleged that the government has deployed chemical weapons on various occasions against rebel forces in Syria.

In an apparent reaction to Del Ponte’s comments, the U.N. commission said it "has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.“

The panel, which is investigating allegations of violations of international law in Syria, declined further comment.

The statement, issued in Geneva, suggested that the commission may have been blindsided by Del Ponte’s comments, which were widely reported in the media and online.

The Syrian government has accused the rebels of using poison gas on at least two occasions. Authorities alleged that their opponents wanted to make it appear that the military was deploying chemical weapons to spur an international intervention. The Syrian opposition has denied any use of chemical agents.

The United Nations has vowed an extensive investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria and has assembled an expert team. But that inquiry has been delayed by a dispute with Syrian authorities about access for investigators to sites inside Syria.

The Syrian government does not publicly acknowledge that it possesses chemical weapons, although international experts say it has a large arsenal, including sarin.

Syrian authorities have vowed never to use such weapons against a domestic enemy, even if they were in Syria’s possession. At the same time, however, they have consistently depicted the rebellion against Assad as a foreign-based "conspiracy" hatched by Syria’s enemies abroad, and not as an internal revolt.

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