Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Three days following the end of the deadline granted by the Free Syrian Army’s [FSA] to the al-Assad regime to put an end to the violence, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that Syrian gunmen had killed at least 80 al-Assad regime soldiers. The FSA had granted the al-Assad regime a deadline to implement all points of the Annan initiative and cease all military operations, threatening that otherwise it would not be bound by any “obligations” towards UN envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan. Following the end of this deadline, FSA forces have escalated their operations against al-Assad regime forces, reportedly killing 80 government troops since the beginning of the week.
A source within the FSA informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the FSA has killed more than 300 members of al-Assad regime forces and pro-regime Shabiha militia over the past week. FSA fighters also informed the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that they had killed more than 100 al-Assad regime soldiers, in addition to destroying a number of tanks, in clashes throughout Syria, including Damascus and Idlib. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Chairman Rami Abdulrahman also informed Reuters News Agency that Syrian rebel forces had over-run and destroyed a number of army checkpoints in Idlib Governorate.
As for the FSA’s resumption of operations on the ground, chairman of the FSA Military Council, Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that that Annan’s initiative was dead on arrival and that killing in Syria is on-going. He stressed that “the regime’s failure to comply with this initiative has forced us to respond. After warning that we would return to defensive operations if the regime did not stop the violence, it is obvious today that the situation is moving towards further escalation.” He also laid the blame on “the international community’s delay in taking a decisive resolution” adding “this is something that will lead to civil war.” The FSA commander asserted that “the region is on the edge of the volcano; this is something that began in Syria and we have seen it move across Lebanon to affect the region as a whole.”
Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh also stressed that the FSA’s military plans and operations have not changed since the start of the revolution, namely focusing on defensive operations, particularly as the FSA does not possess strong offensive capabilities. He pointed to the FSA’s success in manufacturing short-range “Nimr-4” rockets, adding “today, after the regime has widened the circle of its operations to include villages and cities, in addition to targeting demonstrators, it has incited a number of battles, contrary to Bashar al-Assad’s recent speech in which he claimed he was no responsible for this, despite the escalation in military operations by the al-Assad regime forces.” He stressed this military escalation in Syria represented the “beginning of the state of lawlessness.”
Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the army is carrying out suspicious operations across the country, including Aleppo in northern Syria and Deraa in southern Syria. As for the nature of this “suspicious” activity, the FSA commander claimed that the al-Assad regime will resort to utilizing weapons of mass destructed manufactured by Syria’s Scientific Research Center in the forthcoming period.
Al-Sheikh also claimed that the 38th Mechanized Brigade has disarmed the Syrian air defence system to utilize these mortars in operations against Syrian civilians, particularly in shelling al-Lajat in Deraa, one of the FSA’s strongholds. He added that the al-Assad regime has accused the Syrian rebels of being responsible for disarming and commandeering rockets – claiming that the 38th Mechanized Brigade has defected to join the FSA – as a pretext to continue shelling FSA strongholds.
For his part, Bashar al-Haraki of the Syrian National Council [SNC] stressed the SNC’s continued commitment to the Annan initiative, viewing this as the only way out of the Syrian crisis, on the condition that its points are implemented on the ground. Al-Haraki told Asharq Al-Awsat “we do not believe that Annan’s initiative has collapsed or ended, but it could be said that it is in a stage of ‘non-implementation’ due to the regime’s failure to comply with it. However we are calling for international pressure to force the regime to implement it, and in this case the FSA will have no reason to undertake any military operations to defend the Syrian people and protect civilians.”
Regarding the FSA’s call for a return to military operations and targeting al-Assad regime security centers, Al-Haraki said “these centers are the launch pad from which the army are carrying out its operations against Syria’s civilians, and attacking them are the only means for the FSA to defend the Syrian people.”
However FSA Colonel Arafat Rashid al-Hammoud informed Asharq Al-Awsat that it was not in the FSA’s interest to abandon the ceasefire stipulated in the Annan initiative. He stressed “we continue to assert that we are only carrying out defensive operations…what we are doing is in retaliation for the regime’s barbaric operations and the best evidence of this is what President Bashar al-Assad said in his recent speech in which he confirmed he would continue to crush what he described as ‘terrorism’, and this means that he will continue to crush the revolution, and therefore escalate military operation in the forthcoming stage.”
He added “Annan’s initiative has failed to stop the violence but we cannot say that we will be moving to offensive operations because we do not have the means to carry out such operations, and it is in our interest to win international trust and legitimacy, not incite the international community against us.”