Syria: ‘Everyone is willing to pay you just a little bit to buy you’

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports: The rusting green Mercedes truck could have been mistaken for a removal lorry. It was parked in a narrow street outside a luxurious villa a short distance from the Turkish border, and the arms and legs of chairs and tables protruded from the tarpaulin that covered the back. Beneath the furniture, however, was 450,000 rounds of ammunition and hundreds of rocket-propelled grenades destined for the Syrian rebels in Aleppo.

Inside the villa two rebel commanders and a chubby civilian in jeans and T-shirt were exchanging pieces of paper, which the civilian signed. He issued a series of instructions to the men outside, who began transferring crates into the commanders’ white Toyota pickup.

“All what I want from you is that you shoot a small video and put it on YouTube, stating your name and your unit, and saying we are part of the Aleppo military council,” the civilian told one of the commanders, who fought with the Islamist Tawheed brigade. “Then you can do whatever you want. I just need to show the Americans that units are joining the council.

“I met two Americans yesterday in Antakya (Turkey). They told me that no advanced weapons would come to us unless we were unified under the leadership of the local military councils. So shoot the video and let me handle the rest.” Looking in the back, it was clear the ammunition was new. The RPG rounds were still wrapped in plastic.

It was past midnight in Aleppo when Captain Abu Mohamed and Captain Abu Hussein received a phone call informing them the ammunition from Turkey had arrived. Abu Mohamed, a portly 28-year-old member of Aleppo military council, perched unsteadily on a plastic chair in a garage on the edge of the Salah al-Din neighbourhood. He had a handsome face and a great round belly. He and Abu Hussein, a short man with a blond goatee, had been close friends since they were cadets in Aleppo military academy. Abu Mohamed had defected first. Abu Hussein followed him a couple of months later.

Abu Mohamed described where the weapons had come from. Different donors in Saudi Arabia were channelling money to a powerful Lebanese politician in Istanbul, he said. He in turn co-ordinated with the Turks – “everything happens in co-ordination with Turkish intelligence” – to arrange delivery through the military council of Aleppo, a group composed mostly of defected officers and secular and moderate civilians.

Because of its virtual monopoly on ammunition supplies, the council has grown into a significant force in the Syrian civil war, rivalling existing powers like the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist factions. [Continue reading…]

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