Sunday, 7 February 2016

Moderate Syrian Rebel Factions Face Wipe-Out

Kasim Genco, 21, a fighter with the Syrian opposition who was wounded during airstrikes on Syrian villages near the Turkey border, lies in his hospital bed in the southeastern city of Kilis, Turkey, Feb. 7, 2016.

 'The sweeping Russian-backed offensive in northern Syria by President Bashar al-Assad’s military and foreign fighters from Iran, Lebanon and Afghanistan is triggering a humanitarian crisis by propelling thousands of civilians to flee to the Turkish border, say political activists and rebel commanders.

 Some forecast an implosion of secular and less religious-based militias aligned with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) in northern Syria. “This is the end of the FSA in northern Syria,” Bassam al-Kuwaiti, a well-known figure in political opposition circles, told VOA.

  Al-Kuwaiti said some moderate militias will be forced to merge; others will have no alternative but to disband altogether and join either the powerful Islamist insurgent group Ahrar al-Sham, [Free Men of Syria] or enlist with al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.

 In villages and towns northwest and north of Aleppo, FSA militias are already relying on Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra to help them to try to survive a week-long Assad onslaught that has seen Russian warplanes fly hundreds of round-the-clock bombing sorties.
Regime forces have managed to capture a chain of villages that control the main rebel supply route for insurgent-held districts in Aleppo city.
 “The situation is disastrous,” said rebel fighter Abu Zaid, who had just returned to Turkey from the front-lines. “The Russians are flying six-plane sorties and we are being bombarded by artillery and coming under multiple rocket attacks.”
 “You hardly see Syrian army troops fighting,” Malahefji said. “We are fighting Iranians, Afghans and Hezbollah.”
 He was bitter about what he sees as a Western desertion of the Syrian revolution.
 “I have spoken with the ambassadors and their staffs of the U.S., Britain and France and asked them, 'What will you do other than just makes statements?’ ”
 He offered a message from a U.S. official that read: “God willing, we are working on changing the conditions on the ground in the next few weeks.”
 “But we don’t have weeks,” snapped Malahefji, a former higher education teacher. “We need portable anti-aircraft missiles if we are to persevere” he said. “And we need more anti-armor missile systems like anti-tank TOW missiles.”

 The position of the Kurdish YPG, or People’s Protection Units, which is dominated by Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), appears the most tortuous. Rebel commanders accuse the YPG of being two-faced.

 YPG and rebel factions have been protecting civilians as they travel from Azaz. But at the same time the YPG has launched attacks on Islamist and moderate rebel factions around Afrin, seeking to expand the Kurdish enclave. Russian airstrikes on Saturday helped  Kurdish fighters alongside militiamen from Jaysh al-Thwar, a YPG Sunni Arab ally, to capture the strategic Tal Zinkah hill north of Aleppo.
 Syrian rebels argue the YPG, the most effective ground partner for the U.S.-led international coalition fighting Islamic State militants, is a secret partner of Assad and directly and indirectly coordinates with Damascus. YPG commanders have always denied the claim.
In an exclusive phone interview with VOA, PYD leader Salih Muslim echoed Assad and Russian officials. “The Russian airstrikes are targeting terrorists, Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra,” Muslim said. “The offensive won’t impact Syrian Kurds.” '

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