Free Syrian Army 'move command centre inside Syria'

 

General Riad al-Asaad: "We are glad to let you know that the leadership of the FSA has moved into Syria"

The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) has announced that it has moved its command centre from Turkey to "liberated areas" inside Syria.

A video posted on YouTube appeared to show the leader of the FSA, Riad al-Asaad, confirming the move.

Gen Asaad does not say in the video when the move took place, or where in Syria the FSA's new headquarters are.

The FSA is the most prominent of the armed groups fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Thousands of Syrians have died since the initially peaceful uprising began in March 2011, with activist groups putting the toll at over 25,000.

The FSA's move into Syria was made the previous week and "aimed to unite all rebel groups", Brig Gen Mustafa al-Sheikh of the FSA's military council told the Associated Press news agency.

The video which appears to show Gen Asaad announcing the move is entitled Communique Number One From The Inside.

In it, he says that the relocation had happened "after successful arrangements the FSA made earlier in collaboration with the combat battalions and brigades to secure liberated areas".

Analysis

The move by the FSA command to set up shop inside Syria is significant for several reasons.

It implies confidence that rebel control of "liberated areas" in the north of the country is stable enough for it to be able to direct operations from there.

It also implies a greater degree of unity among the somewhat disparate elements that make up the armed opposition, and could boost that unification process. In Aleppo, a joint Military Council has already been formed, embracing the main fighting groups.

The FSA announcement also made much of the fact that while outside the country, the command had been under heavy pressures from various international and regional powers. Presumably it will now feel more independent - though supply lines across the Turkish and other borders will still be vital.

The move should also enhance the credibility of the FSA command, which had been criticised for being comfortably outside the country and out of touch with the situation on the ground.

He goes on to say the FSA will fight "side by side" with "all brigades and factions" until victory.

Gen Asaad adds the capital, Damascus, will be "liberated soon, God willing" but also rejects the idea that the FSA is seeking to replace the current regime.

The Syrian people must agree on any new government, he says.

The move is significant as the FSA has previously been criticised for leading from Turkey and being out of touch with realities on the ground, the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut reports.

It now seems the FSA has territory it feels is reliably under their control, he adds.

The new command centre, in a secret location, will clearly be highly vulnerable to air attack by the regime - something that could increase pressure for some kind of international air cover for the "liberated areas", our correspondent says.

Strike aftermath

Meanwhile, in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, a government offensive against districts where rebels have been operating has reportedly been continuing.

Graphic footage posted online on Saturday appears to show the aftermath of an airstrike in the Al-Missar quarter of the city.

Residents are shown trying to pull dead bodies from the rubble, including those of two young children.

Syrian men look at the destroyed building of a school which was bombed by Syrian government war planes which was allegedly housing rebel fighters in the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood of Aleppo Bombardment was once again reported from rebel-held districts of the northern city of Aleppo

The UK-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at nine people had died in a strike in Al-Missar.

The city has been the scene of rebel activity and heavy government bombardment for weeks.

Fighting was also reported by the Observatory between rebels and government forces in the western part of Aleppo province.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), a network of anti-government activists based inside Syria, said 66 people had been killed in and around Damascus on Saturday, where clashes between rebels and government forces have also been raging in recent weeks.

The LCC put the toll in Aleppo on Saturday at 47.

Also on Saturday, the Lebanese military said FSA rebels had attacked a Lebanese army border post near the town of Arsal.

The Lebanese army said in a statement that this was the second time in less than a week that the FSA had infiltrated Lebanese territory. Military reinforcements have now been moved to the area.

 

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