Syrian Islamist rebels to meet US officials
December 15, 2013 - 7:22:19 am
BEIRUT/ISTANBUL: Syrian rebel commanders from the Islamic Front which seized control of bases belonging to Western-backed rebels last week are due to hold talks with US officials in Turkey in coming days, rebel and opposition sources said yesterday.
The expected contacts between Washington and the radical fighters reflect the extent to which the Islamic Front alliance has eclipsed the more moderate Free Syrian Army brigades — which Western and Arab powers tried in vain to build into a force able to topple President Bashar Al Assad.
The talks could also decide the future direction of the Islamic Front, which is engaged in a stand-off with yet more radical Sunni Muslim fighters from the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
A rebel fighter with the Islamic Front said he expected the talks in Turkey to discuss whether the United States would help arm the front and assign to it responsibility for maintaining order in the rebel-held areas of northern Syria.
Diplomatic sources in Turkey said that US Syria envoy Robert Ford was expected in Istanbul soon but his schedule was not yet confirmed.
The Islamic Front, formed by the unification of six major Islamist groups last month, seized control a week ago of weapons stores nominally under the control of the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Command (SMC).
It has since said it was asked to take over the base by the SMC to protect it from attack by ISIL fighters. The move demonstrated how little power the Western-backed SMC wields in rebel-held Syria.
Rebel commander freezes to death
BEIRUT: A rebel commander has frozen to death in the bitter cold brought by a snowstorm that has swept Syria this week, a monitoring group said yesterday.
“The body of a rebel commander who was on his way from (the northwestern province of) Idlib to Homs (in central Syria) has been found. He died during the snowstorm,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the unnamed commander, in his 40s, was a member of the Islamist Suqur Al Sham brigades.
The Observatory also reported that the frozen bodies of two men in their 30s were found in Homs province on a road to Hama province.