Syria’s rebels on winning streak

The Daily Beast reports: The thumbs-up a top rebel commander flashes at me as he returns to this Turkish border town from the front-lines of northern Syria’s battlefields speaks volumes.

There has been little for Syrian insurgents to cheer about in recent months. Even a few weeks ago this man was downcast and appeared adrift and unable to imagine an end to a war that has claimed the lives of 6,000 of his men.

But a new Islamist alliance of brigades backed by al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra is moving ahead aggressively against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and the emboldened insurgents, fresh from two significant battlefield gains, say that the four-year-long civil war is entering a new and critical phase — one that didn’t appear likely, or even possible, as recently as February.

And as the gains pile up, talk is intensifying within Jabhat al Nusra, and especially among the group’s Syrian commanders and fighters, of breaking with al Qaeda — a move they hope might entice the West to support this offensive and impose a no-fly zone across northern Syria. [Continue reading…]

CNN reports: Analysts put this change in the dynamics down to both cooperation between rebel groups who once fought each other and also greater coordination between their Sunni and Gulf backers — Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Elias Hanna, a former Lebanese army general who now teaches at the American University of Beirut, said, “Two years ago they were fighting each other, now they are fighting together. Moreover there is a major shift in the regional issue in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. I think they are preparing something and helping indirectly with weapons, training, and backing.”

Joshua Landis, associate professor in the School of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said the change in regional postures was a result of the new King of Saudi Arabia, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, deciding that Iran was a more pressing challenge to his state than the House of Saud’s other long-term foe, the Muslim Brotherhood.

“This allows him to coordinate with Turkey and Qatar taking down Assad, even if it means arming Nusra and other Islamist forces,” he said. Landis said he believes the U.S. has “acquiesced” to this new position. [Continue reading…]

Al-Hayat reports: US administration would support military escalation in Syria, but it wants a clear political-military plan for the post-Assad stage, according to Western diplomatic sources

Western diplomatic sources confirmed to al-Hayat that “the US administration does not mind supporting a military escalation in Syria, but it wants a clear political-military plan for the next stage (following the departure of President Bashar al-Assad)”.

The diplomatic sources said President Barack Obama’s administration listened to proposals from Turkish and Arab officials to “establish a buffer zones”, or provide air cover for troops that are trained and equipped in cooperation with the Pentagon. The Obama administration showed “openness towards the proposals”, but requested a “complete political-military plan for the post-Assad stage”. The sources noted that Washington would be willing to support its allies if they presented a plan that deals with “Assad’s departure while maintaining the structure of the Syrian institutions, ensuring the rights and protection of minorities while providing a political solution that prevents a long-term militia war in Syria, as is the case in Libya”.

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