Syrians angry at Israel


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Khalil Sharif wants everyone to stay out of his country’s business.

“First the foreign jihadists hijack the revolution and now the Israelis,” the 31 year old electrician complained to The Media Line. “Why can’t they leave Syria to Syrians?”

While Israel has neither confirmed nor denied it was behind the attacks on Syrian military installations this week, Syrians had no doubt who was responsible. What they’re not sure about, is what it will mean for the future of the civil war in Syria. On one hand, many are happy to see the regime they are fighting suffer a blow to its esteem. At the same time, Syrians fear the attack could allow President Bashar Al-Assad to marshal support by depicting an imminent Zionist threat.

Syrians are taught to loathe Israel at an early age, learning that it is the Arabs’ mortal enemy which wants to steal all their land and strip them of their cultural heritage. Daily doses of propaganda in papers and television ensure that older generations do not forget the perils Syria faces from what they call an expansionist Israel.

But today, many Syrians in opposition controlled areas have reconsidered their passionately held views about their southern neighbor. Some believe that Israel and the Syrian government are closet allies.

“Why hasn’t Syria attacked Israel in the last thirty years?,” 19 year old Hamid Shadi asked The Media Line at an Aleppo bakery. “How can Syria be Israel’s fiercest enemy if it never fights it?”

Shadi and others believe the two nations are colluding to prevent a rebel victory and that Israel has persuaded its Western allies not to intervene in the conflict.

Such reasoning has led some Syrians to postulate that the Israeli attacks were a ruse to allow the regime to shore up its sinking support in the face of the rebel led Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) revolution.

“Just when the regime is beginning to lose on the battlefield Israel attacks,” 34 year old accountant Sa’id Bunni tells The Media Line. “And what did it hit? A science research facility. How is that a military target?”

More level headed Syrians were equally perturbed by the attack.  “It will only distract people from our cause,” complained 42 year old landlord Jabir Shufi.  “We need to focus on overthrowing the regime, not sideshows and circuses.”

Shufi and others worry that a regime skilled in turning catastrophes to its advantage will do just that with the Israeli bombings.  “It will make people reconsider who the real enemy is – the Zionists or the regime, the defenders of the Arab cause,” explained 46 year old Anwar Ma’ri.”  Syrians will just get confused.  And they are good at that.”

Such confusion has already afflicted a number of Syrians. “Why is the FSA fighting the only regime willing to stand up to Israel?” asked 25 year old office supply store clerk Muhammad Sabri.  “It should support (President Bashar) al-Assad in his battle instead of fighting him.”

It is a refrain many on Aleppo’s streets echo. “The FSA is helping the Zionists bleed Syria,” said 22 year old fruit vendor Hashim Sadiq.  “This brings us dishonor.”

Despite the close ties between Israel and the United States, few here believe Jerusalem attacked on Washington’s orders.  “(American President Barack) Obama doesn’t need little Israel to do his bidding,” exclaimed 31 year old builder Yasir Umar.

In private homes far from the fears of eavesdroppers, some Syrians expressed reserved approbation.  “Assad does not fear the FSA,” said a man who only asked to be identified as Abu Ahmad. “But Israel scares him. These attacks keep him up at night and distract him from the fight against the FSA.”

Others who endorsed the Israeli strike lamented that Jerusalem did not bomb anything of significance.  “They didn’t take out Assad’s planes,” noted a man who asked that his name be withheld because he was speaking about a sensitive topic.  “They did not destroy his tanks.  So what good is the attack?”

With so many opinions voiced about an attack whose target is shrouded in secrecy, Syrians are unsure of what to think.  And that just might play into the hands of a regime that has portrayed itself as the only side that can provide stability in a land inundated with uncertainty.

Syrian rebels arm Palestinians against Assad


Syrian rebels said on Wednesday they had begun arming sympathetic Palestinians to fight a pro-Assad faction in a Palestinian enclave in Damascus – a move which could fuel spiraling intra-Palestinian violence.

Two rebel commanders told Reuters they expected their Palestinian allies to fight the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) which dominates the Yarmouk enclave – a one-time refugee camp turned sprawl of apartment blocks which is run by the Palestinians themselves.

“We've been arming Palestinians who are willing to fight…We have formed the Liwa al-Asifah (the Storm Brigade)which is made up of Palestinian fighters only,” a rebel commander from the Suqour al-Golan (Golan Falcons) brigade said.

“Its task is to be in charge of the Yarmouk camp. We all support it and back it,” he told Reuters.

Yarmouk lies at the heart of several southern Damascus districts which have seen heavy fighting between the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

The Palestinians would be expected to attack fighters loyal to PFLP-GC chief Ahmed Jibril, who Syrian rebels accuse of harassing and attacking them to support Assad.

“Now they (the PFLP-GC fighters) are targets for us, targets for all the FSA. All of them with no exceptions,” said another rebel commander who asked not to be named.

Syria hosts half a million Palestinian refugees, mostly descendants of those admitted after the creation of Israel in 1948, and has always cast itself as a champion of the Palestinian struggle, sponsoring several guerrilla factions.

But Syria's uprising has split Palestinian loyalties, with many ordinary Palestinians sympathetic to the uprising by their fellow Sunnis.

The Islamist Palestinian Hamas movement closed its offices in Damascus earlier this year.

Palestinians have in any case been riven by factionalism for decades, their differences exacerbated by the 1975-1990 civil war in neighboring Lebanon, where they also have a strong presence. Intra-Palestinian fighting in Syria could lead to similar tensions in Lebanon.

BOMB ATTACK IN YARMOUK

Residents at Yarmouk, home to about 150,000 Palestinians, said gunmen had been seen in the streets and some people kidnapped in recent days, eight of whom had been killed. It was not clear who was responsible.

A bomb exploded on Wednesday under the car of a Syrian army colonel in Yarmouk, although he was not in the vehicle, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A Syrian rebel commander claimed responsibility, calling it a “gift to Jibril's people which will be followed by others”.

Syria hosts many Palestinian factions which fought Israel and also each other in the 1970s and 1980s. Some like Fatah, the group of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, fought Syrian forces in Lebanon during the civil war and its fighters still bear a grudge against Assad and his late father, Hafez al-Assad.

The creation of a Palestinian rebel group could mark an opportunity to settle historic scores with the Assad dynasty.

Palestinians officials in Syria refused to comment while a Palestinian official in Lebanon said: “We do not want any Palestinian involvement in the incidents in Syria, what is happening there is an internal matter.”

Activists estimate that at least 32,000 people have been killed in the 19-month revolt against Assad.

Additional reporting Oliver Holmes; Editing by Myra MacDonald