BEIRUT: A leading rebel commander from the mainstream Free Syrian Army announced his resignation Sunday, in the wake of infighting among rebel groups, battlefield setbacks and a lack of political support. Col. Abdel-Jabbar Ukaidi, the head of the Aleppo Revolutionary Military Council of the FSA, had harsh words for the international community and the Syrian opposition-in-exile for failing to offer sufficient support for the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Ukaidi has been one of the most prominent FSA commanders based inside Syria, leading rebel assaults in Aleppo and, most notably, personally showing up in Qusair earlier this summer in a failed bid to defend the central Syrian town against an offensive by regime troops and Hezbollah fighters.
Ukaidi’s resignation comes amid a flurry of discussion and meetings in preparation for a proposed Geneva II peace conference, with the opposition National Coalition continuing to insist on guarantees for Assad’s departure from power.
But Western countries have been exerting heavy pressure on the Coalition to attend Geneva, an option that most rebel groups and civilian activists reject.
Ukaidi said the international community had proven that it had been “conspiring against the people and the uprising,” and had even more scathing words for the political opposition based outside the country, as he offered sarcastic congratulations “for your hotels and your political posts.”
“You hardly represent yourselves,” Ukaidi said, adding that politicians were more interested in carrying out foreign agendas rather than seeing to the needs of the Syrian people.
Ukaidi also blamed a number of rebel leaders for in-fighting and focusing on seizing power in rebel-held areas rather than focusing on the drive to topple the regime, but did not single out particular rebel groups by name.
Ukaidi said he took the decision to resign because of the lack of responses to the latest flurry of pleas for inter-rebel unity, “which has led to retreats on various battlefronts, the last one being [the town of] Safira,” southeast of Aleppo.
Government troops last week managed to take the town, which is expected to help re-supply government forces fighting rebels in Aleppo.
In a Facebook post after the rebel withdrawal from Safira and prior to his resignation, Ukaidi said the town fell, “but not because a lack of ammunition – may God witness that we put all of the Revolutionary Military Council’s capabilities in the hands of the operations room on the Safira front.”
“It needed fighters, but FSA and other brigades let us down. Everyone who failed to help Safira will receive what he deserves,” he commented.
Rebel units from the mainstream FSA as well as jihadist groups from the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria decided to pull out of Safira last week after a 27-day assault by regime troops, according to opposition sources.
Also in the last week, militants from ISIS have been busy battling an FSA brigade in Aleppo itself, while the Safira battles were raging.
A senior Homs rebel commander told The Daily Star that Ukaidi’s resignation “came as no surprise” amid differences and grievances between opposition battalions.
The Supreme Military Council of the FSA is expected to hold another round of talks on Tuesday in Ankara to try overcome differences and unite the most powerful fighting factions.
Meetings in the southern Turkish city of Reyhanli last week failed to unite the battalions.
“But the U.S., Saudi, Qatar and Turkey are all in agreement that the SMC should stay in place, along with [FSA commander] Salim Idriss,” the rebel commander said.
Ukaidi, along with Abdel-Qader Saleh from the Tawhid Brigade in Aleppo, were praised by opposition activists and supporters during the summer when they showed up in Qusair in a vain attempt to defend the town against a regime onslaught.
Photographs of Ukaidi and Saleh sleeping in the open air around a campfire were widely circulated in pro-opposition media, to contrast their efforts on the ground with the so-called “hotel” politicians of the opposition-in-exile.