Growing threat of radical rebels infiltrating ranks of Syrian rebels
For a long time Britain and France have been hawkish about military aid to the Syrian civil war, but with the growing concern about the role of Al-Qaeda in Syria and in Iraq they are starting to back pedal, Middle East expert Edmund Ghareeb told RT.
In northeast Syria - Al-Qaeda-linked extremists are holding about 200 Kurdish civilians hostage, using them as human shields, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The Kurds living in the area have been trying to protect their homes, amid heavy fighting between jihadist forces and Syrian government troops.
RT:The lives of innocent Kurdish civilians are now in danger from Al-Qaeda terrorists. What do you think the hostage takers want and why would they be targeting the Kurds?
Edmund Ghareeb: Primarily, there has been a struggle between the Kurds and the Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic state in Iraq and Levant over the control of that area, especially since it borders the Turkish region and the Turkish state. This is an important area for the Syrian armed opposition to continue to receive support and aid, and at the same time extend its control and its influence in this area, which is mainly inhabited by Kurds as well as minorities. There are some Arab tribes also in the area. There are some Syrian Christians who are living in this area. In a way it’s a struggle for control in this region between the two groups: Kurdish Democratic and Unionist Party and the Nusra front and its allies Ahrar al-Sham.
RT:Could you put it in context? What about the relationship the Kurds have in this whole Syrian crisis? Assad is their friend or foe? They’ve played a very little part in this so far. How would they like to see this crisis ending in Syria for them?
EG: Up until now the Kurds were divided. There are two major Kurdish groups. One, there is a Kurdish coalition which includes something like ten different Kurdish parties which have thought to work with Syrian opposition but they had also demanded the recognition of Kurdish rights, linguistic rights, cultural rights in this area, but the opposition has refused to respond to their demands primarily, because the Kurds claim that Turkey has been putting a lot of pressure on them. The other group, however, has taken a more cautious approach. It criticizes the government in Damascus, but has also been very critical of the Syrian opposition, which it has accused of trying to dominate the area and bringing the extremist version of Islam also to their region, which they are not familiar with.
RT:Talking about that opposition, the Free Syrian Army, of course. It is now demanding arms from abroad to fight Al-Qaeda linked militants. That was a day after a top FSA commander was killed by a terrorist. Are we now seeing them fighting two wars here? Are they physically capable of doing this?
EG: This is the main question. What Jabhat Al-Nusra and its allies want to do is to insure that they are not fighting the Kurds and are not fighting the regime at the same time. That’s why, I think, they have made this move. However, what may have triggered this in a sense was a capture of one of the leaders of the radical Islamic groups in that area. As a result of this we saw a move by some of the Nusra front and its allies to try to take hostages to regain the freedom of this commander.
RT:Britain seems to be putting plans for weapon supplies to the rebels on the back burner in the light of what they have been seeing there. Is the West finally coming around to the fact that Assad isn’t now the real the enemy there?
EG: Not completely, but I think the point that you made is very important because there are different views. Britain and France for a long time have been the most hawkish when it comes to military aid and playing a direct role in the Syrian civil war. However, in recent weeks and with the growing concern about the role of Al-Qaeda in Syria and in Iraq, they are starting to back pedal to a certain extent. Also, what one of the concerns is that what we have been hearing from a number of anti-terrorism experts in Europe is that they are becoming increasingly concerned about those fighters who are going from Europe or the Balkans or North Africa to Syria and the danger of them coming back and the impact on Western societies. On the other hand, in the United States you continue to see a different kind of struggle going on. There are some hoaxes in the administration who want to see the US play a more direct role, more aid to the opposition, more direct military involvement such as No Fly Zone, attacks on the Syrian targets. And there are others, however, who are concerned about that.