Syria: top FSA officers quit

Nine high-ranking officers from the opposition Free Syrian Army resigned over meager funding to their group

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Nine top officers from the moderate Free Syrian Army resigned Saturday over shortages and mismanagement of military aid from donor countries to their uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We seek your [the rebels’] forgiveness in resigning today, leaving behind our responsibility as chiefs of battlefronts and (opposition) military councils,” AFP quoted the officers as saying in a statement.

Their resignation comes more than three years into an anti-Assad revolt, which saw protesters take arms against the regime after the army and security forces unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent.

Some Western military aid has trickled into Syria in recent weeks, but overall the United States has been reticent to arm rebels over fears advanced weapons could end up in jihadist hands.

Weapons shipped to Syria from the West, but more significantly from Gulf countries, are usually sent to specific groups, rather than to the Supreme Military Council, which was meant to coordinate the rebel military effort.

Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammad Abboud told AFP he and the eight other rebel officers resigned because the “SMC has no role any more. Donor countries have completely bypassed it.”

Instead, donor countries have funneled military aid, including U.S.-made anti-tank missiles, to factions of their choosing, Abboud said.

“While we thank donor countries for their assistance, it has been really insufficient, and simply too little to win the fight,” Abboud said.

Rebels fighting Assad’s regime have repeatedly urged the West to give them specialized weaponry to help tip the balance in the war against Assad’s forces, which is backed by Iran, Russia and powerful Lebanese movement Hezbollah.

Earlier in June, President Barack Obama said Washington would “ramp up” support for rebels, signaling a change in U.S. policy.

But, faced with successive military defeats around Homs and Damascus province, rebels say they lack the aid needed to change the course of the war.

“We are fighting both the army and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS),” Abboud said, referring to a jihadist group operating in Syria and Iraq that Syria's opposition turned against in January.

“Yet we haven’t got the help we need from countries who say they support our demands for democracy and a civil state.”

ISIS has been battling a range of other rebel groups, from moderates like the FSA to Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, since January.

The inter-rebel fighting is estimated to have killed 6,000 people.

Meanwhile ISIS has put fighting on hold in Syria while it brings in weapons seized inside neighboring Iraq, a monitoring group that tracks the violence said on Friday.

ISIS fighters appear to hold back in Syria this week, especially in their eastern stronghold near the Iraqi border, while their Iraqi wing was making rapid military gains, and vowed to advance to Baghdad.

On Monday, ISIS fighters spearheaded a major offensive in Iraq, seizing swathes of territory in predominantly Sunni areas and pushing towards Baghdad.

In early June, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she favored arming Syria’s moderate rebels but was overruled by Obama.

Western officials have also warned of security risks coming from the Syrian conflict. They warned that jihadists, holding Western passports, have joined radical Islamist rebels on ground in Syria and could possibly return to the West.

On Saturday, France announced that it has deported a Tunisian who was accused of recruiting young jihadists to fight in Syria, deeming him a threat to national security, AFP reported.

The interior ministry said the 28-year-old was expelled to Tunisia on Thursday “as a matter of absolute urgency in view of the threat that his presence posed for public safety and state security.”

A French official said the Tunisian “played a central role in the recruitment of young jihadists” in the southeastern French city of Grenoble.

He is suspected of having taken part in the recruitment of young jihadists who were trained in Tunisia before being sent to Syria.

On April 23, the French government adopted a plan to fight jihadist networks which called for the immediate expulsion of foreigners implicated in them.

On June 3, Prime Minister Manuel Valls increased France’s estimate of the number of its nationals embroiled in Syria's civil war to more than 800 and warned that they pose an unprecedented security threat.

The warning followed the arrest of Medhi Nemmouche, a French jihadist suspected of carrying out last week’s Brussels Jewish Museum killings after spending a year fighting in Syria.

(With AFP)

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