Rebel army moves command centre inside Syria to organise fractured forces


THE LEADERS of the rebel Free Syrian army (FSA) announced at the weekend that they had moved their command centre from Turkey to Syria in a bid to organise increasingly fractured rebel forces.

Brig Gen Mustafa al-Sheikh, who heads the FSA’s military council, said the group made the move last week but he declined to say where the new headquarters was located.

In recent months, the FSA, which emerged from a group of high-ranking Syrian army defectors last year, appeared to be struggling to retain authority over opposition forces inside Syria. Its leaders were criticised by fighters who resented the fact that they were removed from the battle on the ground.

In a video posted on YouTube on Saturday and titled Free Syrian Army Communique No 1 From Inside, Col Riad al-Assad, leader of the FSA, said: “To the Syrian people, its freedom fighters and all the armed factions, we are glad to let you know that the leadership of the FSA has moved into Syria following arrangements made with other brigades that included securing liberated areas with the hope of launching the offensive on Damascus.”

Col Assad was flanked by rebel fighters and spoke in front of a backdrop that featured the banners of rebel units including Liwa al-Umma, a brigade founded by Mehdi Harati, a Libyan-Irish veteran of the battle to overthrow Muammar Gadafy in Libya last year.

Col Assad paid tribute to Mr Harati, whose brigade only came under the FSA umbrella recently.

Liwa al-Umma emerged earlier this year after several Syrians, aware of Mr Harati’s experience as commander of one of the first rebel brigades to enter the Libyan capital Tripoli in August last year, approached him about establishing a similar unit in Syria.

According to Mr Harati, more than 6,000 men across Syria have joined Liwa al-Umma since it came into existence just over four months ago. He told The Irish Times that more than 90 per cent of its members were Syrian and that he and other foreigners within the brigade were in Syria only to “facilitate and train” civilians, using lessons from the Libyan revolution.

In the video, Col Assad sought to allay charges that the FSA leadership was guilty of opportunism as Syria sank further into conflict.

“We have been accused of swerving from our initial noble goals for the revolution and making questionable deals with foreign parties,” he said.

“Our goal is not to take the place of the current regime, which is taking its last breaths.”