Uninvited Saudis, Qatar Behind Syrian Rebel Groups Boycotting Peace Talks

 

 A rebel fighter carries his weapon inside a damaged building on the forth day of the truce, on al-Rayhan village front near the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria January 2, 2017

    Commenting on reports that several Syrian opposition groups have threatened to boycott the upcoming political settlement talks in Kazakhstan due to claimed ceasefire violations, Middle East expert Danny Makki explained to Sputnik that those rebels are backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have been sidelined from the Turkish-Russian agreement.

   Several Syrian opposition groups have signed a statement declaring boycott of the upcoming political settlement talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, citing alleged ceasefire violations.

    Their statement was widely reported by the western mainstream media on Tuesday, elaborating that 10 rebel factions said they were suspending discussions regarding the Astana conference or the cease-fire “until it is fully implemented.”

   The groups cited alleged “major and frequent violations” in the rebel-held areas of Wadi Barada and Eastern Ghouta outside the Syrian capital Damascus.

    Radio Sputnik discussed the issue with London-based media analyst and researcher, specializing in the Middle East security, Danny Makki.

   First of all, he said, it goes against the UN resolution which was unanimously voted on by all of the countries just on Saturday.

   On December 31, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a Russian-Turkish resolution on a ceasefire regime in Syria, as well as on holding political talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups in Astana, Kazakhstan in January 2017.

   A day earlier, on Friday, a nationwide ceasefire between Syrian government troops and several opposition factions came into force. Russia and Turkey serve as guarantors of the deal which paves the way for negotiations between the warring parties.

   Danny Makki also noted that initially, Wadi Barada was not part to the ceasefire agreement, it was not considered as an area to the ceasefire. Hence for those rebel groups to say that it was a violation of a ceasefire by the government is incorrect.

    Most of the rebel groups who have issued the statement are on the side of jihadists, he added.

   “Conspicuously, there are some problems from backers such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia who have been sidelined from the Turkish-Russian agreement and perhaps are seeking some sort of revenge by pressuring these groups to pull out of this agreement,” he explained.

    In addition to this, he said, the statement is aimed to derail the process which was started by one of the opposition significant backers, Turkey.

   “It remains to be seen what Turkey makes out of all of this because this have been seen as a diplomatic victory for the Turks in some sense,” he told Sputnik.

   The initial agreement was signed by about 8 major groups and these major groups represent around over 20 or 30 different small groups, the expert said. All in all, there are hundreds of different rebel groups in Syria, at least two thirds of them were signed up to this agreement, totaling to 60,000 fighters.

   The groups which have recently stated that they would not continue the process constitute around 20 or 30,000 soldiers on the ground, he explained. Most of these groups are funded either by Saudi Arabia or have Gulf sponsorship in terms of finance and support. The Turkish-backed groups have not pulled out of the agreement, all of the Turkish groups stayed in.

   “You have so many warring groups and so many different backers that it is almost impossible to get all of them to agree on one thing at one particular moment of time,” Danny Makki noted.

   Most of the groups around Damascus, who have rejected the ceasefire, are the groups which consider themselves on the threat by recent Syrian army offensive around Wadi Barada. But Wadi Barada was never part of the ceasefire plan, he reiterated. It is Gulf States’ attempt to undermine Russian and Turkish agreement, he noted.

    He further elaborated that these groups are relatively influential. They are mainly located in Damascus and around however they already have a huge presence in the north.

    Even though, they haven’t posed a very significant threat to the overall ceasefire plan because the plan has been supported by Turkey’s reputation.

   “You’ve got to remember that many of the groups and movements who have signed up to this agreement are currently fighting with the Turks around the city of Al-Bab against ISIS (Daesh),” he said.

    “Turks have essentially put their necks out on the line and attempted to say to the Gulf countries: you’ve been supporting the opposition for huge amount of time but because we have a border with Syria, because we have better and closer credibility among the Syrian rebels, we can force them into a ceasefire,” he suggested.

   “You can clearly see a fact that Saudi Arabia is not even involved in this peace agreement which would create a problem to most of the jihadist groups being funded by Saudi Arabia,” he said.

    ‘It just shows how significantly Russia has changed the dynamics of the Syrian crisis’

   The expert also noted that the current developments in Syria only prove how significant Russian presence in the region has been and how significantly it has changed the internal dynamics of the Syrian crisis.

    “Who would have thought in 2015 when the government was facing almost breaking point that the Russians would be celebrating at least a moral victory in an international struggle against the US in Aleppo after signing a peace agreement for the rebels with Turkey, one of the main countries and backers of the opposition,” he finally stated.

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Riyadh, Qatar and Turkey ‘Responsible for Downing Russian Helicopter in Syria’

Mi-8/17

 

A Russian Mi-8 helicopter was shot down in northwestern Syria on Monday killing all five Russian servicemen on board. In an interview with Sputnik, Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos, Editor of Politics First Magazine, put the blame on an alliance of terrorist groups called the Army of Conquest and its suppliers.

“I have no doubt about that. They have in their possession advanced weapons. We are talking about tanks, other armored vehicles, antitank weapons and antiaircraft missiles. The question is who has supplied them with these antiaircraft missiles?” he continued, adding that they could have apparently been supplied by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.”

“Therefore, they are responsible for the downing of Russia’s Mi-8 helicopter, which was on a humanitarian mission in Syria, and for the death of all five Russian servicemen on board,” Marcus Papadopoulos continued.

Dr. Papadopoulos said that the Army of Conquest formed at the beginning of 2015 and after its formation it scored a major  battlefield victory when it captured Idlib city in the north of Syria and the rest of the province.

“Its political and financial backers are Saudi Arabia and Turkey and even though Ankara may now be reconsidering its policy of supporting Islamist terrorist groups, Turkey is the major supporter of the Army of Conquest responsible for numerous atrocities in Aleppo with their artillery bombardment of civilians,” he noted.

When asked that whether the downing of the Russian helicopter and the death of its crew will lead to the Army of Conquest losing its foreign sponsors or becoming officially recognized as a terrorist group, Dr. Papadopoulos said that “there is little chance of that happening because the Americans are supporting numerous other Islamist terrorist groups in Syria.”

He said that when in 2013 Daesh started to make its move in Syria there was no condemnation from the American government. It was only toward the end of that year when Daesh reemerged in Iraq and started posing a direct threat to the Western-backed Iraqi government that the Americans finally acted. Prior to that, they were only too happy to see Daesh advancing in Syria, capturing Syrian territories and committing atrocities.

“So there is no chance of the US listing the Army of Contest as a terrorist group,” Dr. Papadopoulos noted.

The downing of the Russian helicopter came shortly after Daesh posted a video where it called for waging a jihad against Russia.

When asked whether these two things could be connected somehow, Dr. Papadopoulos said that after Russia launched its antiterrorist campaign in Syria that actually turned the table in that conflict, it is now seen by Daesh, al-Nusra Front, the Army of  Conquest and others as one of their main enemies.Answering a question about the terrorists disseminating video accounts of their atrocities, Dr. Panadopoulos said that such photos and videos must be banned and that there should be censorship.

“I don’t really care what people in the West say about censorship being not in line with Western values of democracy and freedom of expression. There has to be a line drawn somewhere, that pictures of atrocities, beheadings, of bodies being dragged behind trucks should be prohibited on social media.”

“This would deprive the terrorists of a very important channel of recruitment. We have to fight them on the battlefield and we should also beat them on social media by banning their pages on Facebook and preventing them from uploading their appalling photos and videos,” Dr. Marcus Papadopoulos emphasized.

The downing of the Mi-8 has become the deadliest episode for the Russian military since it started bombing terrorist-held territories in Syria in September 2015.

US-Backed New Syrian Army: Part of a Plan to Establish Pipelines?

New Syrian army recruits carry their plates before heading for their Iftar (breaking fast) meals, at a military training camp in Damascus, Syria June 26, 2016

 

As the US-backed New Syrian Army has recently suffered two crippling defeats in Syria as the result of massive Daesh attacks on the country’s borders with Jordan and Iraq, Russian military experts provide their own explanations as to why the US keeps pouring money into a group which is, evidently, unable to fight the jihadists.

On July 4, the US-backed New Syrian Army suffered another crippling defeat as a result of Daesh (ISIL/ISIS) in a massive attack at Bir Mahrutha near the Syria-Jordan border.This is the second setback in a row the US-trained force has experienced, following quickly after it was defeated on June 28 at Al-Bukamal on the Iraqi border.

With its strength of a few hundred fighters, the New Syrian Army (NSA), a Sunni rebel group aligned with the Free Syria Army (FSA), and mainly made up of locals from Syria’s Deir ez-Zor Governorate, has received training in Jordan, as well as arms from the US and UK.

Furthermore, the US-led coalition provided air and artillery support in the above attacks; however, the reports later suggested that when the US force saw that the defeat of their protégés was imminent, they called off their jets.

Russian military experts then suggested what the real purpose behind the evidently incapable group’s operation on the ground could be.

“It is not by chance that certain information began to emerge that Washington and Arabian monarchies are using this group to [establish] control over Syria’s eastern regions,” Pavel Ivanov writes in his article for RIA Novosti.

“There are no government forces operating in this area, hence the New Syrian Army is the only force which is fighting against the radical Islamists there,” the author suggests. “Which gives all the reason to suggest that they are pursuing a clear goal.”However, he adds, “the reality might be quite different.”

The author then cites “a circulated opinion” that the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are thus trying to impede in Russia’s efforts to implement a number of its gas projects, by financing and supporting the NSA.

He offers as an example the much-talked-about attempts to establish a corridor from Qatar through Saudi Arabia to Turkey and onwards to Europe for the construction of a gas pipeline which could radically change the current energy system in the region and become a major competitor to Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom.

The author, however, notes that there are many opponents to this suggestion who argue that such a project is very risky and economically unsound due to the lengthy military conflict on the ground.

He further suggests that there is another option: that the US and its partners simply plan to wrest Syria from both Daesh and Assad, who have become “equal-volume obstacles” for them, and to establish their own tough rules in the area: no war, no “wrong” activity in the area and “one long pipeline.”

A similar point of view was earlier echoed by Anatoly Nesmiyan, a Russian military expert and blogger better known by his username el_murid. He suggested earlier in June that the Americans are now trying to create a transit corridor: not to defeat Daesh, but to ensure the transit of Iranian gas.

“In other words, the idea of two gas pipelines, which what the Syrian war is all about, is still hanging in the air: the first pipeline was to be from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey further into Europe; the second one, known as the “Islamic Pipeline” was supposed to run Iran-Iraq-Syria and further through Mediterranean Sea into Europe,” he then explained.

The expert added that the failure of the Qatar project has not discouraged the ‘game players’ and the project might be revived, taking into account the thaw in relations with Iran and active Kurdish position.