Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Syrian National Coalition’s defense minister resigned on Monday, in another sign of the deep splits plaguing both the group and the Syrian opposition in general.
As’ad Mustafa, who held the defense portfolio in the “interim government” set up by the Coalition—the predominant umbrella group of Syrian opposition organizations—told Asharq Al-Awsat that he quit because of “the lack of support and his failure to provide the opposition’s military groups with the weapons and funds they need.”
Mustafa’s resignation followed criticism of the Coalition and its leaders from some rebel groups in eastern Syria.
A number of groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the province of Deir Ezzor withdrew their recognition of the opposition’s interim government on Monday, including leader Ahmed Tu’mah and defense minister Mustafa.
A copy of the statement, which was signed by 20 rebel groups, obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat accused the interim government’s leaders of “delay in sending funds to the province because of the differences within the government, the buying of allegiance of some factions, and the interference by some people in the government.”
Rebel groups in Deir Ezzor, including members of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, have been fighting for control against both government forces and militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Other sources within the opposition said Mustafa’s resignation followed a clash between him and the leader of the Coalition, Ahmad Al-Jarba.
In particular, they pointed to Jarba’s recent visit to Washington, claiming that he had refused Mustafa’s request to accompany him to the US as the representative of the Coalition’s military wing, instead taking the FSA’s chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Abdel-Ilah Al-Bashir.
Mustafa regarded Jarba’s refusal as tantamount to “excluding him,” the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday, adding that the visit was important because the US has begun to consider supplying military assistance through the FSA’s General Staff, rather than Mustafa’s ministry of defense.
Speaking from Kuwait, Mustafa dismissed reports that he had quit because of clashes with colleagues, telling Asharq Al-Awsat that he had “very good relations” with Jarba.
He re-asserted his claim that he resigned over the failure of the Coalition to offer meaningful support to rebel groups on the ground, saying Syria was being “destroyed from north to south” and the Ministry of Defense had no way to help opposition armed forces “face the aggression of the Syrian regime and its brutality.”
“Damascus is besieged, Homs has been evacuated of the revolutionaries, and Aleppo is encircled. If we get weapons, we can change this situation in less than a week,” he claimed.
Mustafa previously attempted to resign on February 14, but withdrew his resignation two days later under pressure from other opposition leaders. He told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday he did so after receiving promises that support was on the way, “but this has not materialized, and this is what makes me determined about the resignation this time.”
“I do not want to deceive the revolutionaries [into thinking] there is a Ministry of Defense supporting them. This is nothing but an illusion in the light of the lack of assistance coming from abroad,” he added.