Syrian rebels reject deal to strip regime of chemical weapons

Russians have taught the Americans - particularly Obama - an unforgettable lesson, commentator for Arabic newspaper writes.

Syria fighting 370 (photo credit: Goran Tomasevic / Reuters)
Syria fighting 370
(photo credit: Goran Tomasevic / Reuters)
A Syrian rebel commander criticized the Russian plan for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to avoid a US-led attack, calling it a “dirty deal.”
The plan “would serve Israel, not the Syrian people,” Col. Abdel-Jabbar al-Oqaidi, a commander in the Free Syrian Army, said in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV on Tuesday.
The rebels are upset that the world only began to mobilize for action after chemical weapons were used, and not because an estimated 100,000 were killed in the civil war, overwhelmingly by conventional weapons.
“All of this shouting in the international community is because of the chemical weapons and not because of Assad’s atrocities against his people using tanks and rocket launchers,” Oqaidi said. He rejected any political solution before President Bashar Assad leaves power.
In a sign of rising frustration within the opposition, Oqaidi complained that its political leadership was not coordinating with the military rebel leadership in the country. The political leaders “represent the countries that nominated them, not the Syrian people,” he said.
The rebel Syrian National Coalition decried a “political maneuver which will lead to pointless procrastination and will cause more death and destruction to the people of Syria.”
Regime warplanes bombed rebellious districts inside the Damascus city limits on Tuesday for the first time since the poison gas attacks. Rebels said the strikes demonstrated that the government had concluded the West had lost its nerve.
“By sending the planes back, the regime is sending the message that it no longer feels international pressure,” activist Wasim al-Ahmad said from Mouadamiya, one of the districts of the capital hit by the chemical attack last month.
The Russian proposal “is a cheap trick to buy time for the regime to kill more and more people,” said Sami, a member of the local opposition coordinating committee in the Damascus suburb of Erbin, also hit by the poison gas attack.
Damascenes in pro-Assad areas, however, were grateful for a reprieve from Western strikes: “Russia is the voice of reason. They know that if a strike went ahead against Syria, then World War III – even Armageddon – would befall Europe and America,” said Salwa, a Shi’ite in the affluent Malki district.
Meanwhile, the Arab League held an urgent meeting on Wednesday over the Russian proposal. Arab League Secretary- General Nabil Elaraby said the proposal should be considered seriously, adding: “There is no military solution for the crisis in Syria.”
The Arab Gulf States pushed for the meeting even though there is hesitancy to support the attack from some Arab states such as Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Writing for the Saudi backed Al-Arabiya website, Theodore Karasik said that despite diplomatic efforts, there are ongoing preparations to assemble a coalition of Arab League member states and the US, ahead of a possible attack on the Assad regime. The US might be able to count on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to provide support for air operations over Syria, he said.
Karasik pointed out that Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Salman bin Sultan has been spending time with US Central Command forces in Jordan, “most likely coordinating and making tactical plans for the near future.”
“From the Gulf point of view, America needs to show that at this critical juncture in the Syrian maelstrom, Washington is still a reliable ally to key Arab League members,” he said, hinting that an attack on Syria would solidify the relationship with Gulf states.
The Gulf News ran an editorial on Tuesday saying an attack is still in the cards if Assad fails to follow through on the Russian plan.
Other Sunni Gulf media outlets vented their frustration at the delay and diplomatic dance. Tariq Alhomayed, writing in Asharq al-Awsat, said that “what we are facing is nothing more than American, and international, weakness in the region; the Russians have taught the Americans – and particularly President Obama – an unforgettable lesson.”
The diplomatic process will simply buy time and allow the Assad regime to continue “committing crimes,” Alhomayed wrote.
This “trick” by Assad to announce his agreement to hand over his chemical weapons “demonstrates that the security of the entire region is in danger as a result of Obama’s weakness...,” he said.
The failure to achieve a real political solution could mean that the Arabs would accept Russia as a new regional superpower, Alhomayed said.
Abdel Bari Atwan, former editor-in-chief of the Al-Quds Al-Arabi London-based pan- Arab daily, said on Al-Manar TV on Tuesday that the loss of Syrian chemical weapons would be a loss for the entire Arab nation, according to a transcript by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute).
“The loss of the Syrian chemical weapons will be a loss to the entire Arab nation, because these weapons are the poor man’s nuclear bomb. These weapons create some, if not complete, deterrence vis-à-vis Israel, which possesses a huge chemical and nuclear arsenal,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.