Sunday

24th Jul 2016

Syrian rebel officer: 'Why isn't Europe helping us?'

  • Al-Hamoud: 'They are afraid of what will come after, an Islamist government or civil war' (Photo: Travel Aficionado)

As the EU stops sales of perfume and truffles to Syria, one officer in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) wonders why it is doing so little to really help.

EU ministers imposed the ban on luxury goods at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday (23 April). Based on a list drawn up for North Korea in 2007, it includes art and race horses, as well as perfume, truffles and fancy glassware.

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British foreign minister William Hague admitted it is "obviously not as important" as previous measures, such as last year's oil embargo, let alone potential ones - such as military assistance to rebels.

In a sign of how the truffle ban might be seen by the Syrian opposition, one rebel officer - lieutenant Khaled al-Hamoud - recently told this website he is worried the West is preparing to do a deal with President Bashar al-Assad.

"If European politicians are thinking or hoping that al-Assad will resist, it will never happen. Al-Assad will fall," he said.

"Why aren't Europeans demonstrating in the streets to stop these crimes and to condemn European politicians? If some elephant is killed it is more important than Syrian people who are being killed every day," he added, referring to last week's media outcry on the King of Spain's hunting escapades.

Al-Hamoud spoke to EUobserver on 18 April by phone from a secret location near Lattakia, in north-west Syria.

The 37-year-old paratrooper was initially assigned to guard the airport in Damascus. He said his unit became caught up in the killing of civilians and that he fled to Turkey in October when superiors found out he was smuggling arms to rebels.

He added that he went back into Syria to "kill or capture" serving officers. But the FSA told him to halt operations due to the recently-agreed UN ceasefire plan and he is now gathering names of officers involved in ceasefire violations instead.

"They are still bombarding people. We raised the independent Syrian flag up high in one place to see how they would react and five tanks opened fire," he said.

He denied reports that Nato powers France, Turkey, the UK and the US, or anti-Syrian Gulf states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are helping to equip and train the FSA.

"Nobody is helping us at all ... the Turks arrest anybody they find who is carrying even a little gun. There are no foreign soldiers, no Libyan fighters. The only foreign fighters in Syria are [Lebanese militants] Hezbollah fighting with the regime and [Iraqi cleric] Muqtada al-Sadr's people fighting with the regime."

With Tuesday's EU communique also urging rebels to create "an all-embracing opposition platform," Al-Hamoud showed the level of mistrust between rebel factions. "The SNC [Syrian National Council] is infiltrated by [Assad ally] Iran. The biggest mistake the West could make is to rely on the SNC," he said.

He noted Western concerns that if the Sunni Muslim opposition gains power it will harm minorities such as Christians or regime-allied Alawite Muslims.

"They are afraid of what will come after, an Islamist government or civil war. But this is propaganda by the Syrian regime. We want to live in peace with everybody. We want democracy and we want to live in dignity ... Religion is for God and Syria is for everybody," he said.

Asked if an FSA-led Syria would make peace with Israel, he answered: "For me, I am tired of this resistance against Israel. Our main concern is to rebuild our country from within and to live in peace with everybody."

MEPs fear further 'Putinisation' of Turkey

MEPs criticised the harsh crackdown in Turkey after last week's failed coup, and warned that Ankara must not go down the road towards an authoritarian regime, in an extraordinary meeting of the EP's foreign affairs committee.

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