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Foreign backers re-evaluate Syrian quagmire

File - Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags, as they parade during the opening of new cemetery for colleagues who died in fighting against Israel, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Top Western and Arab security officials have cut the Syrian opposition out of their decision-making process as Islamists that gained momentum in Syria sweep across northern Iraq, threatening U.S., European and Gulf Arab interests.

In parallel, Hezbollah is considering its own partial withdrawal as its base in Lebanon begins to question how many fighters must fall for a never-ending war across the border.

Western security sources told The Daily Star that a recent meeting between military and intelligence figures from the U.S., Britain and Saudi Arabia resulted in several “pivotal” decisions regarding the next phase in Syria and Iraq in order to restore a semblance of balance and alleviate the violence.

The sources would not reveal the exact time or place of the meeting, but denied it took place in Turkey, Jordan or Saudi Arabia.

The meeting lasted two days, while the plan should begin to be implemented in late June.

Notably, the meeting did not include any representative from the Syrian opposition, neither the Syrian National Coalition nor the Free Syrian Army.

Its leaders will be made aware of the decisions taken “sooner or later,” a source said.

“The meeting was held in secret and on the condition that no information be leaked,” it added.

The decisions were based on ideas put forward by U.S. President Barack Obama’s in a speech at West Point Military Academy regarding the American strategy toward Syria, which have in turn been adopted by several Western states supportive of the opposition.

The sources said the next few days may witness a dramatic military shift in favor of the moderate Syrian opposition forces, which are expected to “achieve significant progress and inflict heavy losses on the Syrian army and its allies.”

The sources noted Western leaders’ resolve to eliminate terrorism and fundamentalist organizations such as the Nusra Front and ISIS and others which now pose a strategic threat to United States, European and Gulf interests in the region.

The sources expect the issue of Syria’s chemical weapons to become hot again following the failure of talks between the U.S. and Russia, which will also be reflected in nuclear negotiations between the West and Iran.

Meanwhile, sources close to Hezbollah said that the party was considering a partial withdrawal from Syria, leaving fighters to protect Alawite and Shiite areas.

The final decision, however, will be made in tandem with the Syrian regime and the Islamic Republic, who make up the rest of the “resistance axis.”

The decision comes as the party’s base begins to question the feasibility of fighting an unending war, with hundreds of fighters dying on foreign soil.

The withdrawal also comes in the context of increasing international reluctance to remain involved in Syria that could result in a withdrawal of foreign elements from both sides of the conflict.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 19, 2014, on page 3.

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