Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Bassam al-Dadah, political adviser to the Free Syrian Army [FSA], has denied a Washington Times’ report which claimed that the FSA had been preventing Alawite Muslims from joining its ranks. In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, FSA leaders also warned that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is “preparing to establish a separate Alawite state along the Syrian coast and by its adjacent mountains.”
The Washington Times had reported the growing unease in Syria and Turkey regarding the possible outbreak of “religious strife” between Shiite Alawites and Sunnis, who constitute the majority of the Syrian population. The publication claimed that some Alawites attempt to join the FSA in order to fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but are turned away “because of their faith.” Thair Abbud, a Syrian Alawite volunteer, is one example of this. “I wanted to join the combat groups,” he said, “but one of the revolutionaries told me that they weren’t in need of an Alawite. ‘Go to hell’, I thought. This is no revolution.” The paper also cited Abbud as saying: “The revolution has taken on very Islamic characteristics.” He also stressed that despite his rejection, he still strongly supports the opposition.
Commenting on the report, Bassam al-Dadah, the FSA’s political adviser, “categorically denied” such claims. In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said: “We are trying to accommodate Alawites through every possible means. We told the sons of the respectable Alawite sect that the FSA is their army, and that they are our kinsfolk and people.” He added: “We pursue a policy of containment and constantly communicate with them. We have never rejected anyone from the various sects which form the fabric of Syrian society.”
Seeking to prove this claim, Al-Dadah was keen to remind of the presence of Alawite officers in the FSA. On defecting from the regime, one “appeared in a YouTube video and declared it publicly.” He noted: “the FSA units are not divided on a sectarian basis; we are not sectarian.” He stressed that there are also Alawite fighters within the ranks of the armed opposition.
Al-Dadah held the Syrian regime responsible for fostering religious segregation in the country, because it “instills horror in the hearts of Alawites of other sects.” He pointed out that the Syrian regime “frightens Alawites of other sects in order to garner their loyalty and support.” He claimed that the U.S. paper’s report was a “work of intelligence”, aimed at “intimidating Alawites”, and added that the regime is seeking to establish an “independent Alawite state” along the Syrian coast. According to Al-Dadah, the creation of a sectarian state would take place with the help of the Russian fleets coming to the Syrian coast.
A leading source in the FSA told Asharq Al-Awsat that the FSA’s military command is “looking forward to a battle” which is now “almost settled”, due to the near certainty that the regime will “fail to regain Aleppo.” He stated that this is the “battle of the separation of the Syrian coast from the other towns of Syria.” This source, which currently resides in Turkey, added: “We are making preparations in order to prevent the separation of the Syrian state and to preserve our territories within all our borders.” He pointed out that “the strategy of the regime in Damascus and Aleppo is based on fighting to the bitter end, and if it fails to control them, it will declare a separate state along the Syrian coast. The regime is making arrangements for this step.”
“The battle we have started will not end,” he continued. “We will move on to fight an important national battle against the separatist state, which the regime is preparing to set up on the Syrian coast, similar to the plan that was to be implemented after World War I.” Al-Dadah also claimed that any new separatist and sectarian mini-state would bear similarities to the State of Israel, Syria’s staunchest enemy.
The regime has since encountered another serious setback in the form of the defection of Riad Hijab, Prime Minister to Al-Assad. His spokesman, Mohammed el-Etri, told al-Jazeera TV that he is now poised to “join the revolution.” He is the most senior Syrian official to defect to date. Despite this, the government news agency “SANA” has issued details of a press conference during which Omran al-Zoub, Information Minister, said that “the flight of some personalities, however high-ranking, won’t affect the Syrian state,” adding that “leaving one’s post in an illegitimate manner is an evasion of responsibility.”
Meanwhile, the conflict between the FSA and Al-Assad’s regime has spread to new areas of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. The city has witnessed an escalation in violence within the past week as both sides have upped the ante in their efforts to control the city.