Opposition figure criticizes SNC ties to Syrian rebels

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Haytham al-Manna (C) is escorted by fellow Syrian opposition
 activists residing in Egypt on 9 November 2011.
(Photo: AFP – Khaled Desouki)

Opposition figure, Haytham al-Manna, criticized on Friday the Syrian National Council’s (SNC) decision to deepen its relations with army defectors waging an armed insurrection against the regime.
 The SNC announced in a press release on Thursday that it aimed to “improve cooperation [with the Free Syrian Army] in the political and relief arenas.”

SNC head Burhan Ghalioun met with Free Syrian Army (FSA) chief Burhan Ghalioun to thrash out means to “increase the level of coordination and activate mechanisms of communications” between the two groups.

Asaad, second from left, meets with Ghalioun, Third from right, in Hatay, Turkey.
Colonel Riad Asaadwith Ghalioun,
Third from right, in Hatay, Turkey.

“The SNC proposed a plan of action concerning mechanisms and avenues of support to be offered to pro-revolution sectors of the Syrian military,” the statement read.

“The parties agreed to formulate a detailed plan, to include the reorganization of FSA units and brigades, and the creation of a format to accommodate within FSA ranks additional officers and soldiers, especially senior military officials, who side with the revolution.”

The two organizations also “intend to establish a liaison office… in order to maintain direct communications around the clock.”

The SNC – an umbrella organization that includes the Muslim Brotherhood as well as secular activists – formerly opposed the use of military force against the regime, releasing a political program in November that stressed the “peaceful nature” of the revolution.

Ghalioun had also previously urged the FSA to refrain from offensive attacks and remain a defensive force, which appeared to have no effect on the rebels’ actions.

Closer ties between the two organizations – both of which are based in Turkey – might be interpreted as an attempt by the SNC to increase its influence over the rebels.

Manna of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB) opposed enhancing the FSA’s role in the struggle against Assad, accusing the armed rebels of serving Turkish interests. “We know that the Turkish government plays an important role in the political decisions of the Free Syrian Army,” he told Al-Akhbar.

“We don’t believe that an armed group can be on Turkish territory and remain independent of Turkish decisions.”

The NCB is a separate umbrella opposition organization that includes predominantly secular leftists, human rights activists and nationalists, and staunchly opposes foreign interference in the Syrian uprising, while insisting on a pacifist revolution.

“The militarization of the Syrian revolution signifies the death of the internal revolution,” Manna said, referring to the FSA’s armed insurrection against the regime.

“We don’t have an example where an armed struggle against a dictatorial regime won.”

The NCB official stressed that his organization is independent of foreign interests, and adamant on the peaceful nature of the revolution.

Manna queried the FSA’s absolute loyalty to the aims of the revolution, adding that the rebels included non-Syrian elements, as well as Salafists.

“We know that there are more volunteers than defectors [in the FSA], we know that there are non-Syrians along with Syrians. This doesn’t encourage us because we know today that the volunteers include Salafists, the worst of the extremists in the Arab world.”

“We don’t believe the Free Syrian Army is a project that can help the Syrian revolution.”

Manna rebutted SNC claims that the FSA can play a vital role in protecting unarmed protesters from regime attacks, pointing to local organized committees formed to assist demonstrators.
“In certain regions such as Daraa, it’s the population that protects the defectors.”

The opposition figure raised fears of a rising death toll should the FSA subsume the peaceful revolution into a violent struggle.

“The problem is when we have an armed uprising, the number of deaths will increase,” Manna said.
“Our goal is to protect the Syrians, to save the lives, not to increase the death toll,” he said, noting a key difference with the SNC that have sought to include the FSA within the revolution.

An agreement signed in Cairo between Manna and the SNC’s Ghalioun late December appears to have collapsed, with the two political opposition groups diverging on a number of points, most notably the FSA and the use of arms in the revolution.

Western powers have called on Syria’s divided opposition to sort out their differences, but the SNC’s move for closer ties with the armed rebels has driven a wider wedge with the core pacifists in the revolution.

Manna acknowledged that “there’s a lot of differences between us (NCB) and the SNC, and not uniquely concerning the FSA,” but said the door remains open for cooperation.

“There will always be means to coordinate on one level or another with all organizations that are against the Syrian regime; for a transition to democracy; and for a pacifist approach.”

The SNC did not respond to requests for comment before this story was published.

(Al-Akhbar)

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