- Special Pages
damascus/AMMAN: Syrian rebels yesterday seized a Syrian military intelligence compound in the southern Hauran Plain near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, rebel commanders said.
The frontier, quiet since Israel and Syria agreed on a US-brokered ceasefire in 1974, has turned volatile in recent weeks, after opposition brigades stepped up attacks against army and intelligence compounds dotting the agricultural plain stretching from the border with Jordan to the Damascus outskirts.
The compound near the Yarmouk River in the town of Shagara, 8km from a ceasefire line with Israel, fell after a five-day siege, the sources said.
“We have completely taken over this security compound this morning. It’s a command centre for the shabbiha (pro-Assad militia). They retreated after strong blows dealt to them during a five day siege,” said Abu Iyas Al Haurani, a member of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade.
“Anyone who was arrested in the Yarmouk Valley was sent to this military intelligence headquarters to be tortured and it has a strategic importance. With its fall we have completed our liberation of the town of Shagara,” he added.
Another rebel commander said the aim of the attacks in Western Hauran is to open a new front in the fight against President Bashar Al Assad that would stretch troops deployed in Hauran, cradle of the two-year revolt, and to secure a supply route to the western approaches of Damascus.
A former agriculture minister and an economist are leading candidates to be named Syria’s first rebel prime minister when the opposition Syrian National Coalition meets to vote in Turkey this week. The two men are among around 10 opposition figures Coalition members are expected to consider during their gathering in Istanbul today and tomorrow. The list includes virtual unknowns, as well as some prominent members of the opposition to President Assad’s regime, with former agriculture minister Asaad Mustapha and economist Osama Kadi believed to be leading the pack.
In moving to select a rebel premier, who will choose a cabinet to be approved by the Coalition, the opposition is hoping to show it can administer large swathes of captured territory where there is now a power vacuum.
“There is a real need in the liberated areas for better administration of daily life,” Damascus-based activist Matar Ismail said.
“There should be a civilian authority that acts as an alternative power to the Assad government.”
Opposition members said they wanted a good administrator with long-standing ties to the uprising, although nations backing the rebels, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are also likely to influence the choice. “The prime minister must be a man who is completely with the revolution, and it is better that it be someone who was in Syria until recently, not someone who has lived abroad for a long time,” opposition figure Haytham Al Maleh said.
“The next prime minister won’t be chosen on the basis of whose name is most circulated in the media, but on the basis of who is best able to lead a government that takes care of the Syrian people and addresses their most pressing needs,” added Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the Syrian National Coalition.
Kadi, born in Aleppo in 1968, is founder of the Syrian Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington and favoured for his technocratic background.
Mustapha, born in Idlib in 1947, brings experience as a minister under Syria’s former president Hafez Al Assad for eight years.
“If what’s wanted is a technocrat then perhaps Osama Kadi will win. And if the choice is based on who has experience and is the most capable politically, it will be Asaad Mustapha,” Ramadan said.
“The latter has good experience... and he has been close to the revolution from its beginning and is respected.”
At least one potential candidate, Christian dissident Michel Kilo, has already made clear he will not be standing, and neither former Syrian National Council head Burhan Ghalioun nor defected ex-premier Riad Hijab appear on the current list.
Ramadan said the Coalition was expected to hold an initial vote, followed by a run-off between the top two candidates.
“It would be good if there is consensus on one name, but if not it will be decided in a democratic fashion.” The decision to name a prime minister and form an interim government is opposed by some opposition figures, who favour the creation of an executive body with limited powers to administer rebel-held territory.
Council members speaking on condition of anonymity said those opposed to creating an interim government want dialogue with the regime and the formation of a government composed of regime and opposition members.
That is believed to be Washington’s preference, although Turkey and much of the Arab League favour an interim government. For opposition supporters on the ground, the vote is an important opportunity to create a real alternative to the Assad government.
“An interim government will also bring the exiled opposition into direct contact with the people. So even if we haven’t elected them, we can hold them accountable for their errors. Overall, I am hopeful,” Ismail said.
Lebanon and Jordan are playing with fire by allowing jihadists and weapons to pass across their borders into Syria, the Syrian government daily Al Thawra warned yesterday.
“The fire of terrorism will consume not only Syria, but could spread to Lebanon and Jordan, particularly if these two countries intervene in the situation in Syria, ignoring the flow of armed men and weapons from their territory, or by participating directly in the conspiracy against Syria,” the newspaper said.
“Jordan has opened its borders in recent days (allowing) passage of jihadists... whereas before it was satisfied with just facilitating the movement of elements trained on its territory by US intelligence,” it added.
“As for Lebanon, it is closing its eyes to the trafficking of weapons to Syria, led by elements that are not part of the government.”
On Friday, a security source in Damascus criticised Jordan, saying the kingdom has “opened its borders and is allowing to cross over (into Syria) jihadists and Croatian weapons bought by Saudi Arabia.” AFP