Syria’s main opposition group’s efforts to topple the regime are being frustrated by defections, split factions and deep ideological divisions, leaked emails from the leader of the Syrian National Council show.
Messages published in the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper were purportedly lifted from SNC leader Burhan Ghalioun’s account by pro-regime hackers in retaliation for last month’s expose of President Bashar al Assad’s private correspondence.
They disclose how splits and factional infighting are undermining the Council’s capacity to combat the regime.
In one message dated Feb 26, Mohammed Farouk Tayfour, the leader of the influential Muslim Brotherhood bloc and deputy president of the SNC, wrote to Mr Ghalioun demanding that spokesman Bassma Kodmani be removed from her position after she expressed that Israel is a necessity in the Middle East, apparently appearing alongside Israelis in an interview with a French TV station.
“She should stop her statements that are harming the council,” he wrote.
Occupying one quarter of the SNC’s 270 seats, the Muslim Brotherhood’s sway has alienated other factions in the umbrella group.
Last month the Syrian Kurdish opposition walked out amid claims that the SNC refused to include wording about the rights of Kurds. Representing around 10 per cent of the Syrian population, losing the Kurdish minority represents a dangerous fragmentation of the Syrian opposition.
“The Kurdish National Council is not ready for dialogue with us at this moment. A dialogue will only take place after their next conference, in two or three weeks”, listed the minutes of an SNC meeting on April 4.
The continued discord highlights what activists have called a failing of the international community to recognise the exiled SNC, circumscribing its political clout inside Syria.
Last month the Friends of Syria group — which includes Turkey, the US, Britain, France and Gulf states — recognised the SNC as “a legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” falling short of recognition as the legal government in exile they had hoped for.
“Because there wasn’t any real impetus for change from outside in the first five-six months, that killed the opposition, made them look weak on the Syrian street,” political activist Rami Jarrah said.
Amid political wrangling and a dwindling ceasefire, violence continued in Syria on Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 12 deaths. Troops backed by tanks stormed the embattled Damascus suburb of Douma, security forces opened fire on Idlib, and at least six people were said to have been killed in Homs.
UN monitors visited the central city of Hama and nearby Rastan accompanied by armed rebels. But in other parts of the country armed opposition groups, in reticence of UN envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, hit back at the regime, bombing a military convoy in the north of the country allegedly killing four soldiers.
The armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad is also becoming dangerously fragmented according to analysts. As government forces crushed rebel-held areas of Homs and Idlib, and armed rebel groups scattered, the leadership of the opposition’s Free Syrian Army was unable to control the 30 battalions that it claims are loyal to Syria. Analysts from the Carnegie Endowment think-tank report increasingly hard line Salafi elements appearing in the armed militias and within those aligned with the FSA, such as the ‘Farouq battalion’ that was crushed in the regime’s offensive on Baba Amr. The Muslim Brotherhood has also reportedly entered the military fray on its own.
In an effort to formalise the militarisation of the uprising, the SNC has sought to pay known leaders of the FSA inside the country salaries. The reported pledge of $100 million (£62 million) from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates to pay has provided financial backing for the scheme, but it remains beset by inefficiency and infighting.