Syrian rebels reject ceasefire call


SYRIAN REBEL forces yesterday dismissed a call by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for a ceasefire in Syria by Eid al-Adha, the Muslim pilgrimage feast which takes place in 10 days time.

Mr Brahimi said the crisis was getting worse every day and he stressed the urgent need to stop the bloodshed. A ceasefire would “help create an environment that would allow a political process to develop”, Mr Brahimi said before leaving Tehran for Baghdad, where he called upon the Iraqi government to use its influence to persuade Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to implement a ceasefire.

Baghdad was his fourth stop on a tour to drum up support for his proposal. He also visited Riyadh and Ankara.

Syrian troops, supported by war planes, continued their drive to recapture the rebel held towns of Khan Sheikhoun and Ma’arat al-Numan along the strategic north-south highway.

Rebels, who claim they have pushed government forces out of Ma’arat al-Numan, said if the army cannot re-establish control of the road from Damascus to the Turkish border, the government will lose the north, including Aleppo.

Rebels called on civilians to leave northwest Aleppo ahead of an offensive in this area as President Assad ordered the immediate restoration of Aleppo’s 13th-century Umayyad mosque, a Unesco world heritage site held by government troops.

Fire broke out after rebels mounted an assault on the building, originally constructed in the 8th century.

Ankara permitted an Armenian civilian aircraft to continue to Aleppo, a city with a large Armenian population, after forcing the plane to land in eastern Turkey in order to inspect its cargo of humanitarian aid. Last week Turkey compelled a Syrian civilian airliner travelling from Moscow to Damascus to land on suspicion that it was carrying munitions for the Syrian army.

Washington has expressed concern that most arms provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to Syrian rebel groups are being channelled to Sunni ultra-orthodox jihadis rather than secular opposition groups the west supports.

The New York Times quoted a US official as saying, “The opposition groups that are receiving . . . lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it.” Since these are precisely the groups the Saudis, Qataris and wealthy Emiratis favour, the International Crisis Group has reported that other militias adopt a Salafi-style beards and religiosity with the aim of securing urgently needed arms from Gulf conservatives.

In a 46-page study, the organisation argued that the Salafi presence in Syria is growing in numbers and weight in spite of Syria’s history of multi-communalism and moderation in religious affairs.

The crisis group said conditions favoured the propagation of Salafism by puritan preachers who took their message to poor farmers migrating to urban areas.

The rebellion provided these people with an identity and an opportunity to vent their frustration and anger against the authorities and the secular polity. The failure of secular and more moderate fundamentalist rebel groups to unite has boosted the importance of Salafi militias.