Following media reports of an intensification of the Russian military presence in Syria, some elements from both the political and military wings of the Syrian opposition clarified that they would consider Russian forces in Syria as “occupation forces” and threatened that they would fight them and strike at them until they expelled from Syrian soil. They said that they will transform Syria into “a graveyard for the Russian forces” and stressed that Russian forces in Syria would have no sense of and that Russia would sustain a severe defeat.
In the field, the Islamist rebel group Jaysh Al-Islam announced, on September 18, 2015, that its forces had fired a Grad missile at a Russian plane near Latakia, damaging it. A few days later, on September 21, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that shells had been fired at the Russian Embassy in Damascus, but that no damage was caused. The ministry claimed that the firing had come from Damascus’ Jobar neighborhood “where there are armed [elements] who oppose the regime” who have “external sponsors” that are responsible for their activity. So far, no opposition group has taken responsibility for the shelling. It should be noted that this is not the first time that shells have been fired at the embassy; there were similar incidents in April and May 2015.
It is noteworthy that these elements in the Syrian military and political opposition began to address and respond to the intensification of the Russian military involvement in Syria some three weeks after reports of it began coming in. Apparently, the initial reports greatly embarrassed the opposition, which until then had tended to view Russia as a key element in a resolution of the Syria crisis – despite its political, economic and military support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad – and also as capable of persuading the regime to make concessions. Another possible reason for the embarrassment was the opposition’s sense that it did not have international backing. While Russia has recently led diplomatic initiatives, including the January and April 2015 rounds of Moscow meetings between opposition elements and the Syrian regime (Moscow 1 and 2), as well as a plan for establishing a regional alliance to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) that will include the Syrian regime alongside Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Jordan, the U.S. administration has been hesitant and seems to have given Russia a free hand in dealing with the Syrian crisis.
It should be emphasized that these reactions to the growing Russian military presence come from elements in the Syrian military and political opposition whose preconditions for a solution to the Syria crisis include Assad’s removal and the establishment of a transitional governing body with full prerogatives on the basis of the 2012 Geneva I communiqué. This is in contrast to the political opposition within Syria that is represented most prominently by the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which is headed by Hassan ‘Abd Al-‘Azim, and which does not set Assad’s removal as a precondition for solving the crisis. The committee is considered close to Russia and views it as a legitimate mediating factor; it also recently welcomed the intensification of the Russian military involvement in Syria and argued that it would help the fight against terrorism and also the search for a political solution.
This report will review reactions to and threats against the Russian military presence in Syria:
Armed Syrian Opposition: We Will Target Russian Forces
FSA Spokesman: We Will Turn Syria Into A Graveyard For Russian Forces And A Second Afghanistan
First to respond to reports that Russia had increased its military presence in Syria was the armed opposition in Syria. The spokesman for the general command of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Colonel Mustafa Farhat, called this a dangerous development, and warned: “We will see any Russia soldier setting foot on Syrian soil as [an act of] occupation and aggression by Russia. We will fight them with all our might to our last breath… The FSA and the rebels will turn Syria into a graveyard for the Russians and a second Afghanistan, ending their fairy tales, their arrogance, and their cockiness that have in recent years inflicted disasters on the Syrian people because of their support for Assad.” Farhat also called on Turkey, the Gulf countries, and the international community to prevent Russia from becoming further involved in Syria.
Jaysh Al-Islam: We Struck Russian Plane Near Latakia; Russian Forces Will Not Feel Secure
The Islamist rebel group Jaysh Al-Islam reported on September 18, 2015 that it had fired a Grad rocket that struck and badly damaged a Russian transport plane carrying state-of-the-art tanks at the Humaymim Naval Airbase. It also claimed to have targeted the military seaport in Latakia. A statement by the group read: “We announce today that we have hit the Al-Bassel [Humaymim] Airbase, which has become a Russian military base, and we promise that our enemies will not feel secure as long as our people do not feel secure.” According to the group, it fired the rocket after receiving reports of unusual activity by the pro-regime Shabiha militias and Russian officers in those areas.
Political Syrian Opposition: We Will Oppose Russian Occupation
National Coalition Of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces: Syrians Will Not Remain Silent Over The Occupation Of Their Land
The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces condemned Russia’s military intervention in Syria and clarified that the Russians have become an occupation force that will be opposed by the Syrians. In a September 12, 2015 statement, the National Coalition wrote: “With this aggressive move, Russia has moved from a stage of supporting a criminal regime that carries out genocide in our country to a stage of direct military intervention alongside a crumbling illegitimate regime. The direct Russian military intervention places the Russian leadership in a position of hostility towards the Syrian people, and makes its forces on Syrian soil occupation forces… We present these facts to the international community, to the UN, to the Arab League, and especially to the Russian people – we do not wish upon them in Syria a repeat of their experience in Afghanistan – because Syrians will not remain silent over the occupation of their land and the spilling of their sons’ blood.”
Prominent Syrian Oppositionist: The Russians Have Come To Fight The FSA; We Will Oppose The Russian Invader And Expel Him From Our Land
National Coalition official Michel Kilo likewise wrote, in an op-ed titled “Dangerous Escalation” in the London-based Qatari daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid: “For years, [Russia] claimed that it would absolutely not interfere in Syria, and that no other element should either. But here it is today announcing its decision to expand its military presence there and to wage a war there to subdue the ‘Islamic State’ [ISIS] and to keep the damage that it does away from Russia.
“We all knew that Russian intervention would complicate our problems. [and would] create a political and possibly strategic environment, having international consequences that would likely extend our conflict and nourish it on content that contradicts our focus and national interests – and that it could bring about the deaths of more of our citizens…
“Because of Russia’s commitment to the [Assad] regime, it is unlikely that it will refrain from fighting the FSA and the factions hostile to ISIS. This is because it is the FSA, and those factions, that have achieved the greatest victories over [the regime], that removed it from its strategic positions in our country, and that threaten its existence. Furthermore, strengthening Russia’s status vis-à-vis Iran and empowering the regime against the revolution mean that the FSA factions must be fought and conquered.
“Statements by [Syrian Foreign Minister] Walid Al-Mu’allem regarding ties between the Russians and Assad’s army confirm that the Russians invaded Syria for the sole purpose of beginning to fight the FSA factions, and that they will refrain from fighting ISIS until the balance of power between the regime and [the FSA factions] shifts. This option is likely, considering that ISIS is weak in areas controlled by the regime and strong in areas controlled by the FSA, [while the FSA] is strong in areas controlled by Assad, which also have the strongest presence of Russian invaders.
“Before Putin invaded our country, it seemed as though there was a search [by the international community] for elements that preferred a political solution to a military one. But after the invasion, the picture changed, and we Syrians are left with no option but to oppose the invaders and expel them from our homeland.”
Michel Kilo (Source: Alarabiya.net July 3, 2015)
Syrian Muslim Brotherhood: Russia Will Become A Direct Target; Its Forces Face A Worse Fate Than Afghanistan And Chechnya
In a harsh communique, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) stated that Russia had become an occupier and a partner in war crimes, and that it would be directly targeted by Syrians defending their country: “Russian military activity has recently begun in the heart of Syrian soil, making makes this permanent member of the Security Council an occupier and direct partner to war crimes and crimes against humanity…
“We in the Syrian MB stress that this blatant aggression towards our country and our people places Russia alongside Iran as the criminal regime’s direct partner in the killing of our people and the destruction of our country… We warn that this aggression will make Russia the direct target of those throughout Syria who are defending themselves and their country’s honor, [and that Syria] will become… a graveyard for tyrants and invaders… The continuation of this direct [Russian] occupation and this direct partnership in war crimes and crimes against humanity that is today being perpetrated by the criminal regime in Syria will eliminate any hope for the political solution that has been approved by the Security Council…”
Omar Mushaweh, director of the Syrian MB’s information office, said: “The Syrian people see the Russian forces as occupation forces involved in [spilling] Syrian blood. It is our right as an occupied people to resist the occupier and expel him from our land.” He added: “It is the right of occupied peoples to use all legitimate means to liberate their land and expel the occupiers… If Russia does not end its blatant interference in Syria and its killing of its people, it will face a worse end than [it did] in Afghanistan and Chechnya.”
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