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Coalition Engages Arab Fighters in Raqqa Battle | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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SDF fighters in the Raqqa countryside in mid-December 2016. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP

Beirut, Moscow- The international coalition against ISIS is currently working to inject the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) with Arab fighters to boost the fight against the terrorist organization.

After hundreds of Arabs recently joined the “Euphrates Anger” operation in the Raqqa suburbs, Syrian opposition figure and head of the Syrian Elite Forces Ahmad Jarba announced on Thursday that an Arab force including 3,000 fighters operating under his command were being trained by the U.S.-led International Coalition in preparation to oust ISIS from its stronghold.

“Now we are preparing for the battle of Raqqa,” Jarba told Reuters in an interview in Cairo. “There is a training program with the coalition forces. We will be ready to enter this battle in force and we are in the process of preparing for it to liberate our lands.”

SDF spokesperson Talal Silo explained that the Elite Forces led by Jarba were working side-by-side with his forces, but were not part of them.

Silo added that parts of the Elite Forces had previously joined the second phase of “Euphrates Anger,” while other batches were trained by the U.S. and the Coalition to join the next phases of the attack on Raqqa.

At the political level, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anuar Zhainakov confirmed on Thursday that a meeting of Russia, Turkey and Iran with the participation of U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura would be held in Astana on February 6 to discuss the Syrian opposition’s proposals of a mechanism to bolster a ceasefire in Syria.

The upcoming Astana meeting comes as part of steps agreed upon among representatives of the Syrian regime and armed opposition groups during a meeting held on January 23-24 in the Kazakh capital to settle Syria’s crisis.

On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry also said that the first meeting of a Joint Task Force comprising Russia, Iran, Turkey and the U.N. would be held in Astana next Feb. 6. The meeting will pay special attention to issues concerning the separation of moderate opposition from al-Nusra Front, the statement said.

However, the Syrian opposition factions asserted they were not informed about a next round of Astana talks.

Hisham Marwah, member of the Syrian National Coalition, who also participated in the first Astana talks told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The latest developments reveal an attempt of mixing the cards of the Syrian file at the expense of the opposition.”

Marwah asserted that opposition factions had not received any invitation to attend the Astana talks. “Everything that happened in the Kazakh capital (last month) contradicted what actually took place on the ground,” Marwah said.

He said there were promises to bolster the ceasefire and Russian confirmations that the Syrian regime would not enter the Wadi Barada Valley. “On the contrary, the regime continued its forced deportation strategy, similar to what happened in other areas of Damascus’ suburbs,” he said.

For his part, the legal advisor to the Astana delegation, Ayman Abu Hashem, said that the statement issued by opposition factions hinting to boycott the next talks is mainly caused by the opposition’s disappointment from the Russian position, which had promised to act as a guarantor in bolstering the ceasefire.

Syria’s armed opposition factions said in a statement on Wednesday they could not accept an invitation to peace talks without a fully enforced ceasefire.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Abu Hashem described the situation today as “very embarrassing,” but said the opposition statement does not rule out its participation in the Geneva talks, but rather sends a message to assert that keeping things unchanged would foil any future talks.

And while opposition factions asserted that the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) is the party entitled to speak in the name of the opposition, Abu Hashem said the HNC is expected to hold a meeting in the upcoming days to form the delegation, which would represent the opposition in the upcoming Geneva talks, expected next Feb. 20.