Rebels Move Command From Turkey to Syria - New York Times
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Commanders of the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella group for fighters opposing President Bashar al-Assad, said Saturday that they had moved their headquarters from Turkey into “liberated areas” inside Syria, in what would be a major step forward for the organization as it tries to coordinate and control disparate groups of rebels.
In a video titled “Free Syrian Army Communique No. 1 from Inside,” Col. Riad al-Assad, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, announced the move, sitting at a desk flanked by men in uniforms.
“To our free Syrian people and to all free revolutionaries in Syrian towns, villages and suburbs and to all armed factions of the revolution,” he declared, “we announce the entry of the leadership of the Free Syrian Army into liberated territories in Syria.”
He emphasized that the move was made “in collaboration with battalions inside Syria.”Fighters and opposition activists inside the country have long complained that the Free Syrian Army and exile opposition groups are too far removed from the battle inside Syria and lack legitimacy among the Syrians directly involved in the fighting; some have viewed exile leaders as opportunists.
In the video, Colonel Assad sought to assuage some of those concerns.
“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 replace the current regime, which is taking its last breaths.”
He called for all elements of Syrian society to agree on a new political system, adding, “We are just a part of it.”
Vowing not to “strike deals” with anyone “until we liberate Damascus,” Colonel Assad declared, “We also promise you that we won’t make any deals at the expense of our population, its identity, its religion, its unity, its freedom, its sovereignty or its independence.”
The move took place a week ago, Brig. Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, who leads the F.S.A.’s military council, told The Associated Press. It was the latest in a series of recent efforts by the armed opposition inside and outside Syria to establish a tighter command and supply structure.
The announcement on Saturday came as activists in the northern province of Idlib claimed to have carried out an audacious attack in which three rebel battalions worked together to attack a Syrian Army base and shoot down a fighter jet.
The downing of the jet was not immediately confirmed by Syria’s official news agency, and the claims regarding the fighting and the move of the rebel headquarters were impossible to verify immediately because of Syrian restrictions on journalists.
Anti-Assad activists in Idlib said that a Russian-made MIG fighter was shot down by rebels over a base of the Syrian Army’s 46th Regiment on the road between Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s two main cities, as two other rebel battalions mounted a ground attack against the base.
One battalion reached the gates of the base, an activist who gave his name as Thaer al-Allah said in an interview on Skype. Activists posted video on the Internet that they said showed another battalion cutting off a road leading to the base to block the advance of government reinforcements.
It was the third time in a little more than a month that opposition forces claimed to have shot down a military jet.
Clashes were also reported on Saturday on Syria’s borders with Lebanon and Jordan. The Syrian government said its forces had chased rebel fighters across the border with Lebanon, and the Lebanese Army issued a statement saying that Syrian opposition fighters attacked one of its posts near Aarsal, a border town in the Bekaa Valley that has been a haven for Syrian refugees.
In southern Syria, in Dara’a Province, where the rebellion began last year, activists said that the Syrian Army shelled civilians trying to flee to Jordan.
Government forces attacked an area near a border crossing between the town of Heet and Jordan in what activists believed was an attempt to cut off escape routes to Jordan, said Kaysar Habib, an opposition activist.
Mr. Habib said that many residents fled to a dry riverbed along the border, and that government forces shelled the town as people escaped, killing two.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Antakya, Turkey.