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On Wednesday, the US and Britain announced they were cutting off non-lethal aid to northern Syria, claiming that the Islamic Front — formed last month by seven leading insurgent factions — had taken over Free Syrian Army positions at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish border.
But is Washington really reacting to an assertion of power by the Front against the US-backed FSA and Supreme Military Council? Or is it distorting events, possibly from mis-information, possibly as a pretext to challenge the Front and its backers — which include Saudi Arabia?
Since Tuesday night, American officials have been telling reporters that they are “obviously very concerned” with the situation.
By last night, this had escalated to: “What concerns the US Government is that this new group wants to set up an Islamist state and not a democratic one inside of Syria. Some of its members also have ties…to militant groups.”
US officials even put out the line — a false one, it appears — that General Salem Idriss, the head of the Supreme Military Council, had “fled” to Qatar. (SMC sources said last night that Idriss had visited Doha at the weekend but is now back in Turkey.)
Meanwhile, Asharq al-Awsat quotes “a senior FSA Supreme Military Council official” that the Islamic Front carried out a “complete coup” as it raided 10 warehouses and took weapons — including 2,000 AK-47 rifles, M79 Osa rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, and 14.5mm heavy machine guns — more than 200 tons of ammunition, and at least 100 military vehicles.
The FSA officer said: “The claims made by the Islamic Front and Ahrar Al-Sham that they came to protect the warehouses at the request of the FSA Chiefs of Staff is a lie.”
However, Islamic Front military spokesman Captain Islam Alloush denied responsibility, accusing “unknown groups” of being responsible for raiding the FSA base and stealing their equipment.
And the Supreme Military Council posted a statement this morning, confirming that it did call in the Islamic Front for protection:
In reference to what is being shared with regards to the raid and theft from the headquarters, we disapprove and deny the statements that are being linked to the Chiefs of Staff of the FSA and reported by social media and television channels. And we point that what actually happened was an attack conducted by an unknown armed “gang” and we called for help from some of the factions in the area including the Islamic Front, who answered the call which we are thankful for.
The headquarters were secured thanks to God first, and their help second. And we must point out also that all that is being eluded to regarding the issue besides what has been noted above is not the truth and has not been released by any side belonging to the FSA Chiefs of Staff.
A Facebook entry from the Islamic Front’s Mohammad Alloush on December 8 also indicates that the Free Syrian Army requested assistance.
So what is truth and what is fiction for political purposes?
We try to get to the heart of the story in a Spotlight, “The Real Story Behind US Cut-Off of Non-Lethal Aid to Insurgents?“:
Was the US, unhappy that the Islamic Front did not respond to its approach by supporting moves for a “peace conference”, looking for a pretext to halt its assistance?
And did it do so by re-working the story of what really happened at Bab al-Hawa?
VIDEO: Iran’s Press TV report on Bab al-Hawa: