The New York Times has a high profile article today by C.J. Chivers centered around a chilling video of Syrian rebels executing captured Syrian soldiers (you can watch it here). The article titled “Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in West“, offers the rebels violence as a challenge to the Obama administration who has sought to place the U.S. on the “right side” of the conflict. From the article:
As the United States debates whether to support the Obama administration’s proposal that Syrian forces should be attacked for using chemical weapons against civilians, this video, shot in April, joins a growing body of evidence of an increasingly criminal environment populated by gangs of highwaymen, kidnappers and killers.
The video also offers a reminder of the foreign policy puzzle the United States faces in finding rebel allies as some members of Congress, including Senator John McCain, press for more robust military support for the opposition.
In the more than two years this civil war has carried on, a large part of the Syrian opposition has formed a loose command structure that has found support from several Arab nations, and, to a more limited degree, the West. Other elements of the opposition have assumed an extremist cast, and openly allied with Al Qaeda.
Across much of Syria, where rebels with Western support live and fight, areas outside of government influence have evolved into a complex guerrilla and criminal landscape.
That has raised the prospect that American military action could inadvertently strengthen Islamic extremists and criminals.
The story comes out as John Kerry trying to build the case for the U.S. to arm the rebels and attack on Syria. Yesterday Kerry claimed that 15% and 25% of the rebels groups are “al-Qaeda and the bad guys“, but others have balked at this claim. The Times article will most likely complicate Kerry’s barnstorming tour a bit:
In a single photo, NYT pours cold water of Kerry’s assessment of “moderate” Syrian rebels: link to t.co
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) September 5, 2013
Just as Kerry attempts to put a rosy face on the U.S. rebel allies in Syria, the AP reports that “al-Qaida-linked rebels” from the Jabhat al-Nusra group attacked the Christian village of Ma’loula yesterday. Ma’loula is on a UNESCO list of tentative world heritage sites. From the AP article, “Syrian Rebels And Army Battle Over Regime-Held Christian Village Of Maaloula”:
Syrian government troops battled al-Qaida-linked rebels over a regime-held Christian village in western Syria for the second day Thursday, as world leaders gathered in Russia for an economic summit expected to be overshadowed by the prospect of U.S.-led strikes against the Damascus regime.
Residents of Maaloula said the militants entered the village late Wednesday. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, said the fighters included members of the of al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group…..Heavy clashes between President Bashar Assad’s troops and Nusra Front fighters persisted in surrounding mountains Thursday, according to the Observatory, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists.
Speaking by phone from a convent in the village, a nun told The Associated Press that the rebels left a mountaintop hotel Thursday after capturing it a day earlier. The nun said the frightened residents expect the Islamic militants to return to the Safir hotel and resume shelling of the community below.
“It’s their home now,” the nun said. She said some 100 people from the village took refuge in the convent. The 27 orphans who live there had been taken to nearby caves overnight “so they were not scared.”
Lebanon’s Al Manar reported “hundreds of militants attacked the Christian-majority town”:
Local and international media outlets reported that that al-Nusra Front militiamen destroyed the Aramaic church and institute in the town and stole their contents.
Militants began their attack on Wednesday detonating a booby-trapped car at an army checkpoint near the town in the northern countryside of Damascus.
The so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’ claimed responsibility for the bombing , which aided the gunmen to enter Ma’loula and seize control over its main square where snipers deployed over a number of buildings.
Journalists and reporters said that access to the town is not possible due to the fierce clashes between the two sides, indicating that militants have slaughtered some Syrian soldiers.
From her part, Mother Bagela said that two shells landed on the monastery of Mar Takla leaving material damage.
Media correspondents also stated the army’s military operations are cautious because of the presence of civilians, in addition to that al-Nusra’s gunmen deployed over Ma’loula building are delaying the qualitative military conduct to restore the town.
Mondoweiss commenter Walid informs takfiris shelled the St Elie church, setting it on fire:
For those still wondering, early this morning the takfiri rebels attacked the remote Christian village of Ma’loula 65 km northeast of Damascus, a pilgrimage site for Christians and Muslims. The women and children had been evacuated but the men stayed behind to defend the village and its churches that date back 1500 years. Ma’loula is one of 3 villages in Syria and in the world where the residents speak Aramaic among themselves. In the assault, the takfiris shelled the St Elie church, looted it and set it on fire.
These are the takfiri rebels the US wants to help by bombing Syria.
Meanwhile, divisive debates over Syria are dominating discussions at the end of the first day of the G20 summit hosted by Russia. While President Obama is trying to pick up support for military strikes, Russia and China are not on board and have warned the US not to take any action without UN backing. The Chicago Tribune reports Obama and Putin make ‘odd couple’ at the summit, rather an understatement.
(Hat tip MW commenter Walid)