As-Safir - Mohammad Ballout
Qatari diversion… and a US denial of a Riyadh request to postpone “Geneva”
How will the Saudis replace their loss of Azaz hostages? That is since the nine Lebanese, who returned in a complicated and multifaceted deal, were the actual goal for the attack which the group of Abu Omar Al-Kuwaiti initiated in Azaz to prevent their release, in order to add them to the papers that the Saudi intelligence seeks to control in North Syria and use them against “Hezbollah”.
Until the last hour before the fall of the “Northern Storm Brigade” and the escape of the rest to the Turkish territories last week or to Kurdish People Protection Units in Afrin, the groups created by “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” organization” (Daesh) in Azaz tried to reach the Lebanese hostages before the deal, which moved faster as the fighters of Abu Omar Al-Kuwaiti were getting closer to the last spots of the “Northern Storm Brigades” near Bab Al-Salama crossing, was completed.
A Syrian source, who tried to mediate in the Lebanese hostages case a year ago, says that the policy of Saudi Intelligence Chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, heads in the coming phase towards trying to compensate for the loss of the Lebanese hostages in Azaz by new hostages as soon as possible, after this trial proved how efficient this paper could be in pressuring “Hezbollah” environment and wagering on its ability to prevent it (Hezbollah) from fighting in a future battle in Syria.
The source, who works on the files of hostages from all nationalities held specifically by “Al-Nusra Front” and “Daesh” in Syria, added that entrusting “Daesh” and “Al-Nusra” with these hostages is because these groups refuse any mediation for an exchange of prisoners or initial negotiations on their release. None of the parties had previously succeeded in holding any agreement with these groups on the release of any of the abductees held by them.
A Syrian source further states that “Al-Nusra” and “Daesh” keep in a prison in eastern Syria four French hostages, two Spanish hostages, and a German doctor kidnapped from Azaz hospital a month ago during clashes with the “Northern Storm”. The source says that Aba Luqman, Prince of Daesh in Al-Tabaka, supervised the imprisonment of the hostages after receiving from Aba Yaaqoub, one of the princes of “Al-Nusra” in Ar-Rikk, two French hostages last June. The source assures that a Syrian mediator close to “Daesh” visited the hostages ten days ago in their prison and stated that they were still alive.
The source explained that these groups’ policy of collecting hostages, knowing that the Saudi and Turkish intelligences have authorities over them due to their armament over a year ago, specifically of “Al-Nusra”, aims at keeping papers for pressuring all other parts.
A source related to the Lebanese hostages file says that if it weren’t for the current deviation in the Qatari stance on Syria and Iran, it would have been impossible to hold a deal for releasing them. Moreover, it seems that the US-Russian agreement, on proposing the possibility of negotiating the Syrian crisis in Geneva, was treated seriously by the Qataris.
A source related to the file adds that one of the indicators that Prince of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad had received America’s decision on changing its attitude towards the Syrian crisis, was in New York in the atmosphere of the Iranian-US phone call between Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and US President Barack Obama during the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, and as he ordered Qatari Intelligence Chief, Ghanem Mohammad Al-Kubaisi, to take off to Istanbul to contribute in solving and ending the hostages crisis. Furthermore, sources say that the Qataris started reducing their direct financial funds to the armed Syrian opposition and to some operation rooms they run on the Turkish-Syrian borders. In this context, the young Qatari Prince is heading towards dealing with the regional files, in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, in compliance with the new American approach on Iran. It is also likely to witness significant Qatari stances in the coming phase, and the invitation of Lebanese figures to Doha, like (Parliament) Speaker, Nabih Berri, and representatives of “Hezbollah”.
Moreover, it seems that the Qataris have avoided entering in a clash over Syria with the United States, which is the first insurer to Doha’s security, unlike the Saudi choice to go on with the war on the Syrian regime and Iran and obstructing preparations for Geneva conference. On this point, a Syrian opposition member quotes US officials, whom he met lately, as saying that the Saudis are still betting on a military solution.
Additionally, a supervisor on the Syrian file in the US Foreign Ministry had told a Syrian opposition member that he had rejected a Saudi request to postpone Geneva conference for a whole year, until the armed opposition regains control over the military initiative against the Syrian Army. The source also noticed that the US intelligence had recently demanded its internal allies, specifically in Houran region neighboring Jordan, to stop creating splits in the ranks of the Syrian Army or calling on high-ranked officers to join the “Free Syrian Army” because this now serves the benefits of “Al-Qaeda”.
In parallel, a Syrian opposition member says that the Americans have started reviewing their stances on weakening the Syrian Army and are trying to preserve its structure for possible confrontations with “Daesh” and “jihadi” groups in Syria, after reaching an agreement in Geneva in which there could be cooperation with the regime. He added that the transformation in the US stances and the importance of stopping the expansion of Al-Qaeda in Syria is one of the reasons behind the aggravating disagreements with the Saudis. The opposition member quoted a US official as saying: We have reached the red line in accepting the Saudi approach to “Al-Qaeda” groups in Syria. The Syrian opposition will not be surprised if there was wide cooperation between some “Free Syrian Army” wings and the Syrian Army to confront “Al-Qaeda” which forms a threat on Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and Israel. The Syrian source said that the Americans have asked some opposition wings, a few months ago, to deliver messages about Syria, but amid an atmosphere of convergence, they started exchanging ideas about Syria and found many common points that they refused to announce about.
Without exaggerating the size of disagreements between Saudi and the US, which is still the first insurer to its security, it appears that the Saudi–US relations could witness a new trial in the coming days, when the two “coalitions” meet to decide their stances on whether to attend or miss “Geneva 2”. The Syrian opposition member also says that the “Coalition” could despite that decide on participating in Geneva, and with only half-plus-one voting on attending, the decision would pass.
In Paris, a French diplomat, in charge of the Syrian opposition file, minimized the significance of the statement issued by the “Coalition” after the “Friends of Syria” meeting in London three days ago. He said that the “friends” have issued a fierce statement and raised the level of conditions for participating in Geneva just to relief the “Coalition” concerning the European support.
The statement issued after the small meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group put conditions, for agreeing on participating in Geneva, which included eliminating Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from any political process and imposing “a kind of political suicide” on him, ignoring the balance of power on ground and the bases of the Russian-US agreement. The French diplomat further considers that Geneva conference will definitely be held, but he expected its failure due to the imbalance of power for the benefit of the regime, “and we are preparing ourselves for the post Geneva period”.
The diplomat further announced that the Europeans have called on the Saudis once again to stop funding Salafis and “jihadis” in Syria. For their part, the Saudis justify their support to “Al-Nusra” saying they are more effective than “the Free Army” in fighting the Syrian Army. However, the diplomatic source said that the Saudis had promised to stop their support once again.
Translated by Sara Taha Moughnieh