ALEPPO, Syria — Al-Jabha al-Shamiya (the Levant Front) of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), stationed in the areas liberated during Operation Euphrates Shield in the countryside of Aleppo (also known as the liberated areas), handed over on Oct. 10 the Bab al-Salameh border crossing with Turkey to the opposition’s Syrian interim government.
On the same day, interim Prime Minister Jawad Abu Hatab toured the Bab al-Salameh crossing with Levant Front commander Hossam Yassin, Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Jabbar al-Akidi and Haitham Afisi, the deputy chief of staff of the Ministry of Defense in the interim government.
Minister of Finance in the Syrian interim government Abdullah Hamadi confirmed to Al-Monitor that the Levant Front handed over control of the border crossing and that the two parties formed a joint committee Oct. 11 in order to complete the handover process. Once in full control, he added, the interim government will improve operations and facilitate import and export activities at the crossing.
Raafat Junaid, director of the Information Office of the Levant Front, told Al-Monitor, “We have almost completed the handover of the Bab al-Salameh border crossing to the Syrian interim government, with all its resources, facilities and staff. The handover started Oct. 10, and the Bab al-Salameh crossing is now officially under the control of the Syrian interim government.”
Hamadi said, “This step goes in line with the aspirations of the Syrian interim government, which is seeking to institutionalize the vital sectors in the liberated areas in the Aleppo countryside. It is also working on having the crossings managed by competent civil administrations.”
Hamadi added that “this desire is shared between the interim government and the FSA factions in the liberated areas, which want to help the government better play its role.”
The proceeds generated by the Bab al-Salameh border crossing with Turkey are yet to be revealed by the Levant Front. However, these are estimated at more than $1 million per month in duties and taxes imposed on the various commercial goods imported from Turkey.
The Syrian interim government, FSA leaders in the liberated areas and the vice president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces held a meeting with Turkish officials near the Turkish city of Gaziantep on Oct. 24. Chief among the points agreed upon during the meeting was that the administration of the border crossings in the liberated areas shall be handed over to the interim government and all of the proceeds generated by these crossings shall be placed in the hands of the interim government.
The Levant Front on Oct. 10 handed over the Abdul Qader Al-Saleh military college to the staff of the Ministry of Defense in the interim government in the presence of Abu Hatab, Akidi and Afisi.
Afisi confirmed to Al-Monitor that the interim government’s Ministry of Defense officially received the military college with all of its equipment, facilities and training tools. He added that the Ministry of Defense will be working to improve the college and have it better prepared for FSA members wishing to join it. Afisi added that the Ministry of Defense will bring in officers and specialized trainers to manage the college and supervise the training operations.
“Handing over the military college to the interim government’s Ministry of Defense is a successful step that enables the ministry and its officers and trainers to provide their military expertise to FSA fighters in the liberated areas. The military college will help rehabilitate trained fighters, officers and noncommissioned officers who studied modern military sciences,” Afisi added.
The handover of the Bab al-Salameh border crossing was met with widespread discontent among members of the FSA Sultan Murad Division, who accused the Levant Front of handing over the crossing to the interim government to avoid confrontation with the division and to avoid sharing the border crossing proceeds with it. This led to clashes between the Levant Front and the Sultan Murad Division on Oct. 15 in different areas near the city of al-Bab and near the al-Homran crossing, south of the town of Ghandoura. Several people were injured as a result.
The Syrian interim government mediated between the two parties to stop the fighting and managed to have them sign an agreement Oct. 17 that included a cease-fire, an end to armed confrontations, the immediate release of both parties’ detainees and the formation of a judicial committee to decide on legal issues between the two parties.
Commander of the Sultan Murad Division Ahmed al-Othman told Al-Monitor, “The Sultan Murad Division had no intention of controlling the Bab al-Salameh border crossing, and the division is all for the handover of the crossing to the Syrian interim government. The Sultan Murad Division only wanted to pressure the Levant Front into expediting the handover process. The fighting is now over, and we have agreed with the Levant Front to hand over the other crossings in the liberated areas to the Syrian interim government.”
The Levant Front controls the Bab al-Salameh border crossing and a crossing in the west of Azaz, which it jointly controls with the Syrian Democratic Forces in Afrin. It also controls most of the revenues coming from the al-Homran crossing and shares them with a number of other small factions.
Activist Mohamed Barish told Al-Monitor that “handing over all of the border and interior crossings to the interim government is the only way to get rid of the prevailing chaos. There must be an internationally recognized regulatory body that manages these crossings, and the interim government is qualified to do so.”
The handover of the Bab al-Salameh border crossing to the Syrian interim government will have a positive impact on more levels than one. This crossing is now under the control of a civil administration after it was under the control of a military faction affiliated with the FSA. Also, the financial proceeds that the interim government will reap are likely to affect the public sector projects in liberated areas such as health, education, transportation, bakeries and local councils.