Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Former Free Syrian Army (FSA) Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Salim Idris, hit out on Saturday at the chairman of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed Al-Jarba, and the minister of defense in the opposition’s interim government, As’ad Mustafa, accusing them of “breaking promises,” in another demonstration of the divisions within the ranks of Syria’s rebels.
This follows the failure of attempts to appease Idris by appointing him military adviser to Jarba, following his dismissal from his position as chief of staff due to differences with the minister of defense.
According to reports published on Facebook, the meetings between Jarba and commanders of the FSA’s military councils affiliated to Idrsi and Mustafa led to an agreement between the two parties which stipulated that “Minister of Defense As’ad Mustafa resigns . . . and Maj. Gen. Salim Idris offers his resignation from the joint chiefs of staff and be appointed adviser to the chairman of the Coalition for military affairs.”
The Coalition did not publish this statement on its official website, instead adopting a statement published by the FSA Supreme Military Council which did not make any reference to the agreement, but said that the decision to dismiss Idris and appoint another officer in his place had been implemented.
Idris accused the defense minister, the chairman of Coalition, and the military council of “breaking the agreement,” adding in a statement signed by commanders loyal to Idris that the meeting between Jarba, Mustafa and the Supreme Military Council “was planned to attack the commanders of the military councils [loyal to Idris] and antagonize and bully them.”
The decision to dismiss Idris proved controversial among some of the rebel groups making up the FSA, with some refusing to acknowledge his removal.
Idris demanded “the restructuring of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” including the positions of minister of defense, chief of staff and the Supreme Military Council.
Mustafa, the Coalition’s defense minister, denied involvement in the dismissal of Idris and told Asharq Al-Awsat: “This issue involved Jarba himself and I have nothing to do with it,” adding that “no leader in the opposition, whatever their position, should reject a decision by the leadership to dismiss them.”
Mustafa said: “What Idris is doing is a grave mistake,” and called on him to change his position on rejecting the decision of the Military Council to appoint a replacement. He said: “The decision to dismiss Idris was taken by the Supreme Military Council unanimously and it has the authority to do that.”
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the FSA was formed following a meeting of more than 500 representatives of the military factions in Antakya in Turkey, and they elected Idris as leader on December 7, 2012.
At the time, Idris chaired the Military Council which included 30 members, half from defecting Syrian army officers, and half from civilians who were fighting inside Syria.
However, Idris’ role began to shrink recently when the opposition refused to include him in the delegation that took part in the Geneva II conference earlier this year.
The Supreme Military Council issued a decree in February ordering the dismissal of Idris from his post. Rumors at the time said defense minister Mustafa imposed that condition in order to retract his resignation and remain in his post.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Mustafa denied the rumors. He said: “The reason for the resignation was the fact that opposition brigades in the Qalamoun and Aleppo areas were not provided with arms and had nothing to do with differences with Idris, who I respect and whose efforts in his leadership of the chiefs of staff I appreciate, and there are no personal differences [between me and] him.”