Syrians Remain Skeptical After Rome Conference

March 1, 2013

by SAS NEWS STAFF

Secretary of State John Kerry’s pledge of $60 million in non-lethal aid to rebel groups and a meeting with opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib has yet to convince regime opponents that the United States is serious about a quick end to the violence and President Assad’s removal from office.

“A decision to arm the opposition with light defensive weapons will not change the course of the battle, but will make it last,” said opposition activist Fahed Basha, an economist living in exile in Cyprus.

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Kafr Nabl residents mock Rome Conference results. Image courtesy of Ahrar Kafr Nabl

“The international community is still ambiguous and they tend to lengthen the revolution and exhaust it,” added Basha, who is opposition activist as well as writer for the al-Ayyam newspaper.

Referring to the balance the international community is trying to achieve in formulating Syria policy, Basha sees the United States paralyzed in the midst of strategic conflicts.

“You have the Iranians and the wall they’re trying to build towards Lebanon. You have Israel’s security. You have Russia’s problem with pumping Iranian and Qatari gas through Syria and other conflicting interests,“ he said.

Inside Syria, the view of Kerry’s commitment to work with the opposition was met with deeper skepticism.

“Syrians doubt the world because now we realize they’re watching our children killed and our countrywomen raped and the world is watching. They’re watching Assad fueling sectarianism to set the entire region on fire,” said Adam Salam, an architect in the Damascus suburbs.

“Mr. Kerry had previously supported Bashar al-Assad, which damaged his credibility. They need to make brave decisions to provide air coverage and allow Qatar and Saudi to sufficiently arm the rebels”, continued Salam, a moderate Islamist and member of the Damascus Revolution Leadership Council.

The notion that arming the rebels will bolster terrorist elements rankles Salam and other opposition supporters who believe extremists have been helped by lack of Western support for the FSA.

“Americans fear that extremists will control the country and impose a threat to the region’s security. said Dr. Isam Shaban, a FSA supporter in Damascus

“The opposition doesn’t have a problem with Israel because after two years of revolution, Syria will not have the energy to fight Israel. The priority after victory is to build a modern Syria and heal the wounds to bring back our national unity,” said Shaban who like most Syrians is certain that Israeli concerns are the main brake on enhanced American commitment to the rebels.

“The West in general fears that arming the Syrian opposition might change the balance in region and jeopardize Israel’s security. They don’t want the revolution to end with victory. They want it to end in a destroyed Syria, which will secure Israel for a long time, “said 29 year old Dima al-Shami.

“Israel has a strategic interest in dividing Syria and establishing Alawite and Kurdish states,“echoed Jamil Kualti, an independent political activist.

“That’s tempting the Kurds in Turkey so they’re moving to Syria; which is a Turkish interest, “he added. 

Despite belief that Israel is the key sticking point in changing U.S. policy on the rebels, opposition-minded Syrians know their leadership has to take steps to gain American trust.

“The opposition has to convince the West they’re capable of running the current stage in the liberated areas, and then they have to convince them they will be able to run the transitional state if Assad falls. They need to convince them [the West] their priority is to prevent extremism in Syria, which also imposes a threat to Israel in the long run, “said al Shami.