Syrian rebel force announces shift of its headquarters from Turkey to Syria

September 22, 2012

Commanders of the rebel Free Syrian Army said Saturday that they have moved their headquarters from Turkey to an unidentified location in Syria in an effort to unite and coordinate the armed insurrection against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Col. Riad al-Assad, a leader of the force, announced the move in a video posted on YouTube titled “Free Syrian Army Communique No. 1 From Inside.” The colonel was accompanied as he spoke by other rebel leaders in camouflage uniforms.

Syrian rebel forces have at least nominal control of a large crescent of territory along Syria’s northern border with Turkey where they could operate a base and no longer have to shuttle officers back and forth.

Some rebel fighters battling government forces inside Syria have complained that the leadership of the Free Syrian Army should be beside them rather than based in Turkey.

“This could be a key development, giving the FSA the chance to become the Syrian opposition to Assad instead of running the risk of turning into ‘Turkey’s opposition’ ” to Syria’s president, said Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has thrown his support behind the Syrian rebels, but Turkish opposition parties and some ordinary Turks have expressed fear that their country could be dragged into a sectarian war.

Members of a minority group in Turkey, the Shiite Alawite sect, have demonstrated in support of Assad, who is Alawite. They have branded the Syrian rebels “terrorists” and called for the ouster not only of Syrian rebel fighters but also of the 120,000 Syrian refugees who Turkish officials estimate are living in Turkey in camps and rented apartments.

The government in Ankara has tightened its borders and this month announced a policy of moving Syrian refugees away from the frontier area.

“To our free Syrian people, the heroic and proud, and to the sons of the revolution in all the cities of Syria and its villages and homes, and to all factions of the armed revolution, to all of you, we announce the news that the FSA command is moved to the liberated areas,” Col. Assad said in the video.

The commander complained of a lack of support and materiel and “international marginalization” but vowed, “We do not accept compromise with anyone, until we liberate Damascus from this criminal gang.”

The relocation of the military headquarters was carried out a week ago, Brig. Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, head of the FSA military council, told the Associated Press.

“There are liberated areas now, and it’s better for the command to be with the rebels instead of being abroad,” Sheikh said.

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
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