Syrian Opposition Welcomes Obama's Islamic State Speech

Assad regime, supported by Russia and Iran, assails it; ten Arab nations back U.S., agree to 'do their share' to fight Islamic State.

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Hadi al-Bahra, head of the Syrian National Coalition, right, chairs a meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, at the league's headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, September 8, 2014.
Hadi al-Bahra, head of the Syrian National Coalition, right, chairs a meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, at the league's headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, September 8, 2014. Credit: AP

U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement that he won’t hesitate to conduct airstrikes inside Syria as part of his fight against the Islamic State was welcomed Thursday by the Syrian opposition, but assailed by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The Syrian National Coalition – an umbrella group that has been recognized as representing the rebels overseas, but which largely ceded the field to radical Islamist groups after the failure of the Geneva peace talks earlier this year – came back to life this week. The group issued a statement welcoming Obama’s speech immediately after he finished making it late Wednesday night.

SNC chairman Hadi al-Bahra said his organization is ready “ready and willing to partner with the international community” not only to defeat the Islamic State, but also to “rid the Syrian people of the tyranny of the Assad regime.” He said the Free Syrian Army, which is considered the most moderate of the rebel groups, could achieve victory it if received the necessary international assistance.

Rebel sources said that prior to Obama’s speech, in which he outlined America’s strategy against the Islamic State, the U.S. president spoke with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the two agreed to support the Syrian opposition, including by training rebel forces on Saudi bases and giving them new weaponry.

In another move that doesn’t seem coincidental, the Nusra Front – the Syrian branch of Al-Qaida, which has been trying to distance itself from the Islamic State – Thursday unconditionally released the 45 UN peacekeepers it had captured on the Golan Heights two weeks ago.

Damascus, however, assailed Obama’s speech. The official Syrian news agency SANA defined Obama’s policy as one of sponsoring terrorism and torpedoing any attempt to resolve the Syrian crisis diplomatically. “The American government says it supports a diplomatic solution, but issues decisions to supply arms and money to terrorists,” it wrote.

Ali Haidar, Syria’s minister of national reconciliation, said that any military action on Syrian territory that wasn’t coordinated with the Syrian government would constitute aggression and violate international law. This stance was backed by Moscow and Tehran, both of which object to any international action in Syria that isn’t coordinated with the Assad government.

Pledging to fight Islamic State

On Thursday, key Arab allies of the U.S. said they agreed to "do their share" to fight against the Islamic State group, promising to take action to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the group and possibly to join military action.

The announcement comes in a joint statement with the U.S. by ten Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and Egpt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon at the end of a meeting in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jiddah. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his regional counterparts.

The countries said they have a shared commitment to stand against terrorism and promised steps including stopping fighters and funding and "as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign" against the militants.

Kerry was set to travel on Turkey on Friday to rally efforts to tackle IS, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday. Kerry was scheduled to meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, as well as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his two-day visit to the capital Ankara, the ministry said.

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