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Israel’s new war on Gaza buys time for Assad: Syrian opposition figures

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Syrian opposition figures expressed concerns on Wednesday that the dramatic resumption of Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip was designed to save the crumbling regime in Syria by shifting global attention from its crimes.

Anas al-Abdi, a Syrian National Council (SNC) official, told Al Arabiya that the opposition was “always skeptical of the Israeli stance on Syria,” adding that “any new front in Gaza will lighten the burden on the Syrian regime and shift Arab and international attention away from its crimes.”

The Syrian crisis has topped regional and international media agenda for more than a year, prompting a steady buildup of pressures against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian opposition groups are worried that the break-up of a war in the region will relegate their cause to second place in the global agenda.

Abdi said if the military action on Gaza continues, it would be with the Israeli intention to buy more time and leeway for the embattled Assad to collect himself against a daring armed opposition.

The Syrian opposition figure recalled statements made by Rami Makhlouf, cousin and adviser of the Syrian president, to the New York Times in May 2011.

Makhlouf warned that " if there is no stability here [In Syria], there’s no way there will be stability in Israel,” adding that “no way, and nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid, anything happens to this regime.”

For Abdi and other Syrian opposition figures, Makhlouf’s statements were a clear indication the security of Israel is tied, at least in part, with the continuity of the Assad’s regime in Syria.

He said it was “ironic” how Israel has attacked Palestinians in Gaza on the same day Assad’s forces were shelling the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus.

“Israel wants to preserve this regime which is helping ensure its security, and it is moving fast on that,” Abdi said.

Bassam Ishak, a key member of the Syrian National Council and General Secretariat, said Assad is always a favorite of Israel because he helps ensure its security despite his continuous claims of being anti-Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday said armed Syrian opposition groups were in control of nearly all of the villages along the border with Israel.

Israeli forces have twice fired across the disengagement line that was formed in 1974 in response to Syrian rockets that fell on the occupied Golan Heights. Israel captured the strategic upland during the 1967 Six Day War in a move never recognized by the international community.

Ishak said the concern over the potential damage a war on Gaza will have on the Syrian revolution is shared across the Syrian opposition spectrum.

The war, he said, will draw away the attention not only of regional and international sympathizers but also that of people fighting Assad from inside Syria.

Syrian opposition groups have recently struck a deal in the Qatari capital Doha to form a broad-based opposition block to mount pressure on Assad. The bloc was soon welcomed and recognized by the Arab League and several international powers as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Various reports suggested the Obama administration had pushed for a more consolidated opposition front against Assad as a condition of becoming more actively engaged in finding a solution to the crisis that has hitherto claimed more than 30,000 lives.