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Rebels move command operations to Syria from Turkey

Aim of transfer is to unite the fighters and speed up the liberation of Damascus

Image Credit: AFP
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on September 22, 2012 shows Free Syrian Army (FSA) chief Riyad Al Asaad (centre) reading a statement from an undisclosed location in Syria.

Dubai: The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Saturday moved its command centre from Turkey to Syria to unite rebels and speed up the fall of President Bashar Al Assad’s regime.

“The Free Syrian Army command has moved into liberated areas of Syria following arrangements made with battalions and brigades to secure these zones,” FSA chief Colonel Riad Al As’ad said in a video.

Al As’ad, wearing a military uniform and surrounded by about a dozen gunmen, said the aim of moving its command operations into the rebel-held areas is to “start the plan to liberate Damascus soon, God willing.”

“Our goal is not to replace the agonising criminal regime,” he said, stressing that it would be up to the people to decide who will be their rulers after the fall of the regime.
“The transfer will allow the command centre to be closer to the fighters,” General Mustafa Al Shaikh, head of the military council grouping rebel chiefs, was quoted as saying. He declined to say where the new command would be located.

On September 5, Al Shaikh said that rebel leaders planned to overcome divisions and address the growing number of militias fighting on behalf of the FSA.

He said reforms were key to winning the support of the international community which has so far been reluctant to arm the rebels “on the grounds that the [FSA] is not a real institution.”

The rebel army has thousands of fighters, with about 3,000 officers, including 70 generals, according to Al Shaikh.

In the past few months, rebels have been able to capture wide swaths of territory along the Turkish border and three border crossing points on the frontier, which has allowed them to ferry both material and people to help in the fight to oust Al Assad. The rebels also have seized control of several neighbourhoods in the northern city of Aleppo, the country’s largest and commercial capital, in weeks of bloody fighting.

Activists say that nearly 30,000 people have been killed since Syria’s crisis began in March last year.

The Turkish military deployed three howitzers and an anti-aircraft gun near the border with Syria, the Turkish news agency Dogan reported.