Syria rebels face setback in south

Article Summary
The Syrian army has made gains against rebels in the south of the country, while some local opposition councils have started bypassing the National Coalition to obtain foreign funds.

Yesterday [May 16], the Syrian army recovered the strategic Tall al-Jabiya hill near the town of Nawa, west of Houran.

Recovering that hill returns things to how they were a week ago, when the armed opposition battalions took the hill that connects west Daraa with central and southern Quneitra. Recovering that hill also represents the collapse of the efforts by the armed opposition to expand out from the “separation of forces area” in the occupied Golan and seize the heart of the Syrian first defense line for the Golan Heights in the face of Rafid and the occupied Tall al-Furs, and advance toward the destroyed town of Quneitra.

The battles have erupted around Nawa, which is surrounded by the hills of al-Jabiya, al-Jumu and al-Seen Houran. The battles were, on the one hand, between a gathering of the brigades of Ummiya, the Martyrs of Yarmouk, Ahrar Nawa, led by dissident Col. Abdullah al-Qaraiza and Usud al-Sunna, and, on the other hand, the Syrian-armed Brigade 112 and the military security detachment, which was still stationed on the outskirts of Nawa toward Sheikh Maskeen, despite the fall of al-Jabiya.

The Syrian army has sent reinforcements to the area to defend Tall al-Jumu as a continuation of its fortifications in the first defense line, which is a hill that includes reconnaissance weapons and signals battalions in this part of the Syrian defense line.

The Syrian army is expected to try to restore the western and eastern al-Humur hills chain, 5 kilometers [3 miles] from Nawa. Those hills overlook the dividing line with the occupied part of the Syrian Golan captured by Ahrar al-Sham units, Jabhat Thuwar Suria and Jabhat al-Nusra in the last few weeks. Jabhat al-Nusra raised its banner atop those hills after eight months of besieging them.

These areas are the focus of an area that has the Israeli occupation to its back. The opposition would be easily able to move around them if they succeed in expanding its presence. According to a Syrian opposition source in the area, the Syrian army may try to enter Nawa in the next few hours. The army has bombarded Nawa with missiles to prevent the movement of gunmen in it, while other units were advancing toward Tall al-Jabiya. The source said the bombardment left 20 dead and wounded in Nawa.

The National Coalition and ISIS

Three months ago, according to a source in the Free Syrian Army (FSA), there was an attempt at communication between the opposition’s National Coalition and ISIS when the defense minister in the interim government Asaad Mustafa held a meeting in Gaziantep, Turkey, in the presence of the Turkish intelligence officer Hekmat Yozo. The attempt to bury the hatchet between the FSA and ISIS ended without results because of the continuing battles between ISIS and groups fighting under the leadership of the “Chiefs of Staff,” especially the Islamic Front.

The National Coalition faces many obstacles to regain the initiative in the areas controlled by the armed opposition. The countries that back the coalition have started to gradually reduce their direct funding or the funding of some coalition projects that would allow it to extend its influence among the people. The relief operations, which were a source of legitimacy for the coalition, are no longer restricted to the coalition because the West has started aiding the local councils directly and because of the multiplicity of bodies that oversee the limited relief operations or reconstruction projects that the coalition is trying to accomplish.

The crisis is compounded with the increased competition within the coalition between its Qatari wing, represented by Mustafa al-Sabbagh, and the dominant Saudi wing, which is led by Ahmed al-Jarba. It seems that the Qataris may have finally turned the page of the Syrian National Council (SNC), led by George Sabra. This forced the SNC to postpone the meeting of its general assembly four times in a row since the beginning of the year, because it lacked more than $1.5 million and because it doesn’t have enough money to pay the costs of travel and accommodation for what remains of its 320 members. Sabra went to Qatar in April to obtain, without result, aid from then-Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to reactivate the SNC.

The elections of the “local councils” caused a dispute over “the leadership of the higher council of the local councils,” which the “Ministry of Local Administration” claims to be under its authority. Sabbagh’s bloc in the National Coalition is trying, through its associations in Gaziantep and Istanbul and the distribution of funds of Qatari origin, to grab the leadership under the pretext that the coalition is politically subordinate to its bloc. This reflects the continuation of the Qatar-Saudi Arabia conflict at internal levels, while they compete for dominance on the network of traditional and local authorities.

At the level of the National Coalition, the Qataris don’t seem to have entirely given up on the idea of ​​controlling the coalition, which was taken from them from the secular alliance in Michel Kilo’s group and from Saudi Arabia’s first man in the coalition, Ahmed Jarba.

Jarba is trying to stay on top of the coalition by having Badr Jamous win the June elections to the position of president, and then Jarba will follow him six months later, the duration of the mandate. The rules of procedure prevent the coalition’s president from serving more than two consecutive terms.

A social worker in the region who monitored the elections of the “local councils” said that only the population centers that exceed 30,000 people exercised their right to vote. In the towns with fewer than 30,000 people, the council members were appointed in agreement with the major families, dignitaries and clerics. A social researcher told As-Safir that the process to reach a consensus has spared the opposition in these towns from having to face candidates that support the Syrian regime and the possibility that the latter might win as much as 30% of the vote.

In its efforts at relief and in solidifying the local authorities, the coalition is facing direct competition from some countries, which preferred to communicate directly with the councils without passing through the coalition. That further reduces its credibility in the Syrian interior. The German credit fund for the reconstruction of Syria has distributed some aid and funded some small projects in the region, with UAE, American and German funding. Two weeks ago, the money began to reach Saraqeb to repair water and electricity lines. Ahrar al-Sham kidnapped the head of the local council and replaced him with an Ahrar al-Sham fighter. It also required that its fighters be used to protect the reconstruction operations as a condition for their implementation.

The unit support and coordination led by Osama al-Qadi failed to develop a sustainable structure for the distribution of relief in an equitable manner. The largest unit in the coalition is suffering from a constant struggle between its leader Suhair al-Atassi and the executive director, Osama al-Qadi, who was appointed almost a year ago, after Atassi was accused of mismanagement.

The “jihadists” established an independent body for relief to follow the local councils, which are the only elected bodies inside Syria, and to limited the coalition’s hand on any activity or link with the people. Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid and Liwa al-Haqq succeeded in establishing the Islamic council to administer the liberated areas, as another competitor in the field of relief.

A social worker in the area said that the local councils have begun to establish direct “international relations” to dispense with the mediators of the coalition and others and to get direct funding from some countries. The councils of Talbisah and Rastan succeeded in opening direct funding lines with Canada and France without passing through the coalition’s relief and support unit. The social worker said the arrival of funds to the region indicates that there may be conflicts in the region between “jihadists” over who will receive the money and on how it will be spent.

The real competitor for the local administrations is considered to be with the Syrian regime. The regime continues to spend nearly $3 billion a year on employees’ salaries, something that the local administrations and the development budgets cannot do. The regime pays the salaries of employees in all areas, without exception, even in areas outside its control. This means that many employees and their families are still subordinated, in one way or another, to the central government.

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Found in: syrian conflict, syria, salafist gunmen, proxy wars, opposition, jabhat al-nusra, financing
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