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Moderate rebel leaders being picked off in ‘new phase’ of battle

September 17, 2014 By Osama Abu Zeid and Dan Wilkofsky […]

17 September 2014

September 17, 2014

By Osama Abu Zeid and Dan Wilkofsky

AMMAN: A recent string of precise regime airstrikes suggests a campaign to take out moderate-leaning FSA commanders, including those tied to the United States, with Jamal Maruf and Abu Hatim a-Daheek the latest targets.


295 Jamal Maruf

“The targeting of revolutionary leadership signals the beginning of a new phase, in which the regime has started to feel the danger of the moderate leadership who are close to America,” Adnan Hussein, founder of the pro-opposition Afaq Media Center, told Syria Direct Wednesday.

Jamal Maruf, head of the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front (SRF), was reportedly wounded in an airstrike Tuesday on a SRF compound in his hometown of Deir Sanabal in the Jabal a-Zawiyeh area of Idlib province. His deputy was killed in the attack, according to the pro-opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Relatives say Maruf emerged from the attack unhurt but confirmed the death of his deputy Ala a-Din, a correspondent with pro-opposition Idlib News Agency told Syria Direct Wednesday.

Maruf’s Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front, a moderate coalition made up of 14 FSA brigades, was formed in December 2013 in response to the creation of the more radical Islamic Front.

The SRF leader admitted to receiving financial support from the United States in a March 2014 interview with The Daily Telegraph, and has espoused holding democratic elections to fill the power void left by Assad’s departure.

Maruf also announced in early September—standing before hundreds of FSA fighters in Idlib province—the beginning of a new war against the Islamic State, and is noted for refusing to name the SRF an Islamist organization, according to pro-opposition Orient News.

Also on Tuesday, Abu Hatim a-Daheek, head of the al-Ayman Billah brigade in Homs, was killed along with his brother in the city of Talbisah—in the northern Homs countryside—in an airstrike that claimed 12 lives, a relative of a-Daheek present in Talbisah told Syria Direct Wednesday.

A-Daheek was standing on a mobile mortar-launching platform when a “lighting airstrike” killed him before he could fire his mortar.

A-Daheek was head of the al-Ayman Billah brigade, part of the larger Harakat Hazm movement that the US has supplied with anti-tank guided missiles, according an April 2014 article by Jeffrey White at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy 

“It is a moderate/secularist faction, not an extremist/jihadist group,” wrote White, concluding that “Harakat Hazm appears to be a model for the type of group the United States and its allies can support with meaningful, lethal military assistance.”

Similarly, the top leadership of the Islamist coalition Ahrar a-Sham was decimated in a September 9 bombing that no party has yet claimed responsibility for.

The salafi-jihadi group, with reported ties to al-Qaeda, began moderating its hard line ideology as early as April 2014. Days before the explosion, Ahrar a-Sham expressed its readiness to enter the preparatory assembly for the Council for Leading the Revolution, a coalition of rebel groups formed in early August that plans to request aid from the United States.

Charles Lister wrote about the attack in a September 10 article for the Brookings Institution, saying that “the most likely scenario appears to be that a government airstrike targeted the meeting.

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