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Latest News from Syria – 4 January 2014

AbuRayyan– Mass Friday protests against al-Qaeda crimes in Syria
– Why does Iran want to attend the Geneva II conference?



Popular protests were held across Syria on Friday to condemn crimes committed by the Syrian regime as well as the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS). ISIS is an Al-Qaeda offshoot that many believe is collaborating with the Syrian regime or serving its agenda.

The Friday protests were dubbed “The Friday of Martyr Abu Rayyan, the victim of betrayal.” Abu Rayyan, whose real name is Dr Hossein Al-Soleiman, was a popular commander in a militant Syrian Islamic group called Ahrar al-Sham Movement. He was in charge of the Tal Abyad crossing on the Turkish border, among other things. He was heading a delegation from Ahrar al-Sham who went to talk to ISIS leaders to calm down the tensions between various armed groups fight in Syria, but was detained by ISIS, held for 20 days under torture and eventually killed. The news of his murder and images of his mutilated body caused outrage among all Syrian opposition factions.

Last month, ISIS also raided an independent media centre in the liberated town of Kafrnabl and confiscated computers and other equipment, apparently because someone from the centre had posted a picture mocking ISIS fighters. The small north-western town in the Idlib governorate is regarded by most Syrians as one the beacons of the revolution due to the widely circulated creative banners and placards produced by its activists.

Protesters in Aleppo were heard shouting “Free Army forever, crush Assad and ISIS”. Protesters in other areas were heard shouting similar slogans or carrying placards with similar messages. In the town of Kafr Tkharim, near Idlib, ISIS fighters shot at protesters chanting anti-ISIS slogans.

Meanwhile, a number of armed opposition groups fighting against the Syrian regime in the northern areas of the country have joined forces and formed a new umbrella group called Jaysh al-Mujahideed (The Jihadists Army). The group has already declared an open war against ISIS.

The names of the Syrian Friday protests are chosen by a democratic vote on a popular Syrian Facebook page called “The Syrian Revolution 2011”, which has over 870,000 followers.[1] It is worth noting that one of the five alternatives put up for the vote on this Friday’s name was “Syria and Iraq – One Iranian Occupation”. It received 33% of the votes, against 40% for the one that was eventually chosen, “The Friday of Martyr Abu Rayyan, the victim of betrayal”.[2] [1]



During last Friday’s prayer speech in Tehran – which is typically used to convey the official position of the Iranian government and/or figures close to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – Ahmad Khatami said Iran was “not invited” to the forthcoming Geneva II conference on Syria “due to US influence.” “But thank God,” he added, “Iran does not need [to attend].”

He then threatened: “But beware, without the presence of Iran, the conference will fail and end up nowhere.” As to why, Khatami had this to say: “Iran is a significant power in the Islamic world and Iran’s presence in any [international] forum is only an extension of logic and reason. But that is not what the US and its allies want.”

The Syrian opposition strongly objects to Iran’s participation in the conference because it considers the Iranian government complicit in the ongoing war crimes committed by the Syrian regime (by supporting the regime with money, weapons and fighters). In a recent closed meeting between the Syrian opposition and the former US ambassador to Damascus, Robert Stephen Ford, who is regarded as the main person in the US administration dealing with the Syria file, representatives of the Syrian opposition expressed their deep discomfort that Iran might attend the conference. Ford reportedly said he will convey, and emphasise, their message to a preparatory meeting in Geneva he was about to hold with the Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov and the UN special Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.[1]

It is significant that Khatami did not say anything about reaching a political solution to the bloodshed in Syria. To the Iranian government, the Syrian war seems to be a power game, where it can assert its regional and international ‘importance’, regardless of the human, political and economic costs, both to the Syrian and the Iranian peoples. And if this crave for power is not acknowledged by the US and others, then the bloodshed shall continue. That’s how we should read Khatami’s words.


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