Free Syrian Army gunman - Reuters - 08022012
A Free Syrian Army gunman guards protesters praying near Damascus last week. Photo by Reuters
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In an article published recently in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Riyadh newspaper, historian Dr. Mashary al-Naim wondered how Damascus became the “hand-puppet” of a tyrannical regime. Al-Naim further wondered when would Aleppo begin to move, when would it stand up to the Assad regime, and when will it remember its own history. According to him, the city fell asleep and forgot to wake up. Not long after the historian’s lamentations were published, 28 people were killed in twin bombing attacks on Aleppo, shooting the second largest city in Syria to the top of the headlines. So, will Aleppo finally wake up?

The question plaguing the Syrian regime, the opposition, Washington D.C. and Lebanon is who is behind the attacks. On Friday, Syria rushed to blame “Arab and Western countries” for planning two attacks near army posts in one of the most ancient cities in the region. The opposition and the Free Syrian Army blame the regime for planning the attacks in order to distract from the massacre taking place in the city of Homs and from the intention to re-conquer the city of Zabadani, which is currently controlled by the Free Syrian Army. American intelligence estimates that an Al-Qaida faction crossed the border from Iraq and found a new base in Syria.

Each hint and accusation does have a realistic basis. Saudi Arabia, for instance, was previously involved in funding Sunni militias in Iraq that fought against the Shiite rule. Qatar, which is leading a hard fight against Syria had suggested sending Arab forces to Syria, helped the rebels in Libya and Tunisia, and today is “suspected” of political intervention in Tunisia. Turkey has been providing a logistical base to the Free Syrian Army, and according to reports from the Syrian opposition, it is through Turkey that weapons are reaching the rebels.

At the same time, the Free Syrian Army has already proven its ability to carry out attacks using improvised explosive devices, and its commanders announced a few weeks ago that they intend to move toward “quality attacks” against Syrian military targets. Meanwhile, the head of the Free Syria Army, Riad al-Assad must struggle against his “opponent,” General Mustafa al-Sheikh, a top military general who defected from the Syrian army, and who established the “Supreme Revolutionary Military Council,” that seeks to unite all military defectors under his rule. It is enough to read the advertisements on the Free Syrian Army in order to understand the depth of the hatred that the supporters of al-Assad feel toward al-Sheikh. In one message on the site, it was written that al-Sheikh was loyal his entire life to the Assad regime, that a large portion of his family are high-ranking government workers and that his goal is to create confusion and rifts within the Free Syrian Army.

In an investigative series released ten days ago, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar revealed Al-Qaida’s intervention in the Free Syrian Army. According to the report, Al-Qaida representatives from Libya arrived in Lebanon in order to assess the possibility of establishing a new home for the organization. The representatives were welcomed in the refugee camps in southern Lebanon, and later on moved to Tripoli in the north, where a crowded and impoverished Sunni population resides. Al-Qaida-affiliated websites have even published the names of the organization’s members who were killed in battles in Homs and Idlib. Tripoli also serves as the asylum city for fighters in the Free Syrian Army, and many of the fighters receive medical treatment in the city’s hospital. Tripoli is also the source of weapons smugglers who cross the border to Syria and sell their merchandise to Free Syrian Army rebels, as well as to civilians who seek to arm themselves.

Even Tripoli’s Sunni residents are not of one stripe. Armed Palestinian organizations (which the as the Lebanese army has not been able to control), along with radical religious organizations and supporters of the Syrian regime are operating throughout the city. It is not wonder that in Tripoli, of all places, the second largest Lebanese city, clashes erupted between different factions, leading to the death of two people. The Lebanese army was quick to spread its forces throughout the city, in neighborhoods where the fighting took place between the supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. It is doubtful whether the army will be able to stop future clashes. The worry is that Tripoli might turn into a the spark that will light all of Lebanon aflame, and there are those who believe that Assad will attempt to divert the fighting from Syria to Lebanon in order to bring about another civil war in the country.

In the face of diplomatic incompetency, the Russian veto that has “killed our children,” according to one of the anti-regime slogans, and the Arab League’s foot-dragging, the Syrian rebels are pinning their hopes on Aleppo and Damascus’ joining the rebellion. “Damascus and Aleppo, you are the last hope of the revolution,” wrote the opposition on its website. But it looks as if Damascus has not yet woken up from its slumber, and in Aleppo life is slowly returning to normal.

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