Time reports: The beefy Libyan revolutionary field commander turned politician rose from the beige couch to greet his new Syrian guest, who pulled up a chair to join the two other Syrian men seated in a semicircle around the couch in the café of a hotel in the southern Turkish city of Antakya, near the Syrian border.
The Libyan had traveled from Zintan, in northwest Libya, while a fellow countryman, a former militia commander from Benghazi, had traveled from that port city to hold court in this Turkish hotel and meet some of the rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. (Both Libyans requested anonymity, because of the nature of their mission.)
The Syrians seated around the Libyans on this warm night in mid-May were all from Islamist military units that operate outside the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which claims to represent most of Syria’s rebels. The night before, the Libyans said, had been the turn of the FSA, which is generally less Islamist than the rebels now seated at the hotel: the Libyans had met a colonel in the FSA who had sat on the same beige couch. He had defected relatively early in the now more than two-year conflict, and had nominally held a senior position in the coterie of exiled FSA officers in southern Turkey who at one point claimed to speak for the armed opposition but who have since been sidelined by other, newer defectors.
It’s a common sight to see clumps of Arab men, mainly Syrian but sometimes speaking in other Arabic dialects or accents, huddled in meetings or milling about in certain Turkish hotels not only in Antakya but also in other border cities adjacent to crossings into Syria. The meetings usually don’t start until at least the late afternoon, or more commonly in the evening, and can continue well into the early hours of the morning. Some of the men are making deals to buy or sell weapons and ammunition, or are trying to secure financing to do so by meeting with wealthy financial patrons — either Syrian or foreign — who want to contribute to the war without joining the front lines. And then there are the foreign fighters, the men with the long beards and the short pants worn above the ankle in the manner of the Prophet Muhammad, who are waiting for Syrian rebels to take them into Syria. [Continue reading…]