Amman and Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Jordanian officials denied on Saturday reports that Syrian insurgents were training in Jordan for an attack on the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Jordanian Interior Minister Hussein Al-Majali told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The Jordanian Armed Forces will never allow insurgents into Jordanian territory or allow them to transit through Jordan to any destination . . . Syrian insurgents keep trying to enter Jordan especially since the Syrians are not controlling their borders appropriately.”
Majali added: “The core of the problem is the absence of control on the Syrian side. As for the Jordanian side, there is strict control of the border, although we must add that any country in the world cannot control its borders 100 percent.”
However, despite official denials, leading Syrian opposition sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that there were plans to send a number of Syrian fighters who had been trained in Jordan under American supervision to take part in a new rebel campaign around Damascus, which is expected to be launched from the rebellion’s “southern front” to relieve rebel forces besieged in the governorate of Rif Dimashq.
The Syrian National Coalition’s representative in the US, Najib Al-Ghadban, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “these fighters were trained by specialists from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in camps inside Jordan territory.”
Ghadban said: “The conflict is no longer Syrian–Syrian. Because the regime receives great support from Iran and Russia, we too have the right to receive logistical support from our allies, to send a message to the regime that it cannot resolve the conflict militarily.”
Ghadban said that Jordan had agreed to allow training camps on its territory as part of its wider cooperation with the US, adding: “Jordan has tried to assure the Syrian regime that its policies would not be hostile to it, in fear of the latter carrying out terror attacks on Jordanian territory, but that this would not prevent Jordan being the source of support for the southern front.”
Syrian pro-government newspaper, Al-Thawrah, recently warned Jordan not to “play with fire” regarding the escalation on the southern front of the fighting in Syria. It accused Jordan of coordinating with the US in the escalation in the south following the failure of the Geneva II negotiations.
The newspaper report coincided with warnings from the Syrian ambassador to Jordan, Bahjat Suleiman, on his Facebook page, against the “Americans and Jordanians if the southern front was opened to topple the Syrian regime,” and that the “plan is leading the region to an abyss which will swallow up everyone.”
Meanwhile, a member of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council on the southern front, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the problem is not in the numbers of fighters, but in the sophisticated weaponry which we are waiting for to achieve progress in the field against the regime.”
He denied the Syrian opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) had training camps in Jordan, saying they were based in Syria itself, albeit close to the Jordanian border.
“Dera’a has many safe areas and training camps which produced fighters for the FSA,” he said,
The field commander dismissed talk of a renewed rebel campaign around Damascus’s southern suburbs.
The source said: “The distance between Dera’a and Damascus is more than 100 km which means the battle will need heavy weapons which the opposition does not have at the moment.”
He added that the military brigades did not look at the attack on Damascus as an easy task, due to the lack of “anti-aircraft weapons.”
An official Jordanian source, speaking on condition of anonymity, also sought to downplay reports of FSA activity in Jordan and southern Syria, saying they were sparked by joint US–Jordanian military exercises.
He said: “Every now and again, international media sources come out with reports attributed to [the] Syrian opposition or the Syrian government about training opposition forces to involve them in the crisis in Syria, and these rumors increased last year when the ‘Eager Lion’ joint exercises between Jordanian and US forces started, with the participation of 19 countries.”
He added: “We expecting similar rumors in the next two months when talk starts about the third stage of the joint Jordanian–US exercises, which are expected to start in May.”
Jordanian and US armed forces regularly conduct joint exercises in the country throughout the year, and Jordan established a training center for Special Forces and anti-terrorism units in Yajouz, north of Amman, in addition to a police training center in Al-Muwaqqar, east of Amman, where the two centers trained Palestinian Authority forces as well as forces from Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and other countries.
Nadir Abdullah contributed reporting from Beirut.