Wednesday 13 December 2017

Syrian rebels sack leader as allies step up arms supply

A Syrian soldier, right, and a member of a rebel force share a joke in Damascus after a local ceasefire pact was reached
A Syrian soldier, right, and a member of a rebel force share a joke in Damascus after a local ceasefire pact was reached

Richard Spencer in Cairo

THE head of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, the "official rebel force" fighting President Bashar al-Assad, has been sacked and replaced as the US and its Middle East allies gear up to send in more arms.

Gen Selim Idriss, a defected former officer from the regime's army, was voted out by other rebel commanders still loyal to the force. His removal had become inevitable after a series of setbacks, culminating in the loss of much of what remained of his supplies to rival militias, following a gradual loss of influence.

His replacement is Brig Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir, currently leader of the FSA's military council in Quneitra and south Damascus. The choice is significant because rebel leaders, said to be working from neighbouring Jordan, are being encouraged by the CIA, Saudi Arabia and other Western allies to regroup and target southern Syria for a reinvigorated effort against the Assad regime following the failure of the first two rounds of peace talks in Geneva.

"The southern front is a major element of FSA strategy," said one adviser to the leadership of the opposition Syrian National Coalition. "Southern lines of supply and communication are secure and able to bring higher volume of supplies quickly to the front lines into Damascus."

He said that the choice of Brig Bashir would win the backing of the rebels' Western supporters, led by the Friends of Syria contact group of which Britain is a major part. "His credentials as a nationalist moderate are solid," he said. "The West can do business with him."

Gen Idriss was seen as a "safe pair of hands" who spoke fluent English and German when he was chosen as leader of the newly formed FSA supreme military council in December 2012.

But as an electronics engineer by training, he had little frontline experience and was unable to exercise authority over the rebels' range of militias. In a final humiliation, warehouses theoretically under his control in northern Syria were attacked by jihadists from Iraq and al-Shams in December, and had to be handed over to the Islamic Front, a more moderate Islamist rebel group not under his command. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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