ISTANBUL: Hadi al-Bahra, chief Syrian opposition negotiator at the Geneva peace talks, said the ongoing battles in Kasab indicated the resilience of opposition fighters and that, contrary to the regime’s judgment, the war was not lost in Syria.
Since joining the Syrian National Coalition, Bahra, an industrial engineer who attended university in the United States, has made use of his expertise in communications to promote the Syrian uprising.
He met with The Daily Star in Istanbul to discuss the implications of the Kasab battle, the possibility of reaching a political settlement in Geneva and the recent elections held in Turkey.
Fighting in the predominately Armenian town of Kasab near the Turkish border indicates the resilience of the opposition and serves to weaken the perception that the government of Bashar Assad is capable of a comprehensive military victory.
“All the [opposition] forces that have participated in this battle have come from inside Syria,” he said of Kasab. “It was a redeployment of groups that were scattered in different parts of Syria.”
“This battle is significant because it invalidated the regime’s belief that its wins in Yabroud and Qalamoun have determined its victory once and for all,” he said. “The opposition’s strong military response in Kasab has revoked these claims and reaffirmed that the opposition fighters can take matters into their own hands and launch a military offensive in other parts of Syria.”
“If the Assad regime has any common sense, it would realize that it is incapable of a comprehensive military victory and can’t eradicate the opposition,” he said.
But, he conceded, the battle would be a long one.
“The Syrian people are patient and can wait until victory is theirs, unlike the regime, which has resorted to enlisting the help of foreign fighters such as Hezbollah from Lebanon and the Abu Fadel al-Abbas Brigades from Iraq and multinational militias from Afghanistan and other countries to back its troops,” he said.
The most important political aim of the Kasab battles, Bahra maintained, was to make the Assad regime realize that the war in Syria cannot be resolved militarily.
“As for the supporters of the regime, they too have to understand that they are not safe and that their cities and neighborhoods are vulnerable to the oppositions’ offensives. There are no safe areas in Syria. All Syrians must face the same crisis.
“They have to think thoroughly of the cost they are going to pay for their ongoing support for the regime, which enables it to stay in power at the expense of their families and the cities in which they live,” he said.
“In Geneva, we presented 24 articles that would guarantee the safety of regime supporters in a fair and democratic state. [U.N. peace envoy] Lakhdar Brahimi described the articles as something that deserved to be studied, but the regimes response was, ‘We will not listen,’” he said.
Asked what the chances were of reaching a political agreement in Syria, he said: “We have presented a full road map based on the decisions reached at the Geneva I conference, and we presented the document of 24 articles, but the regime has proven by its conduct in Geneva that it doesn’t believe in or want a political settlement. It only wants to gain more time.
“Throughout the negotiations in Geneva, the regime was showering Aleppo and Damascus with barrel bombs,” he said.
Asked whether the process to resolve the Syrian conflict had reached an impasse, Bahra said: “Nothing is constant in the Syrian situation or international policies, things change all the time.
“Maybe the regime still believes that it can settle the conflict militarily and that’s why it is not giving the political solution a chance. When their stances are reversed, then maybe they will realize that their international and local support will not remain steadfast forever and be more willing to embrace a political resolution.”
Of the recent Arab summit held in Kuwait, he said stances remained entrenched and uncompromising.
“There has never been an Arab summit without controversial issues casting dark shadows, this will always be a feature. Arab states supportive of the Syrian uprising are the same, and those against it are still resolute in their stances. There is no change in political stances,” he said.
“Maybe there were several countries that once believed a military solution to the conflict would be more efficient, but now they realize that it is not feasible and that a political solution to the conflict is vital, so they have changed their stance from supporting a military solution to a political process.”
“In our opinion, the summit produced several decisions that serve the interests of the Syrian people, like continuous humanitarian assistance, the emphasis on the fact that the National Coalition is the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people and its invitation to the Arab foreign ministers summit in September.”
Touching on the results of the municipal elections in Turkey, Bahra said: “We appreciate what the Turkish people have done to help us. Turkey is a model of democracy that we seek to build in Syria, and the victory that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has achieved is a victory for the Turkish people, and it will contribute to safeguarding the state institutions and the continuous development of the country.”
With respect to whether the outcome of these elections has renewed the Turkish commitment to supporting the Syrian opposition, Bahra said: “Turkey never cast off the Syrian issue. It is one of the most supportive countries of our people and has received hundreds of thousands of refugees in the past few years. Its role was fundamental from the very peaceful beginnings of the uprisings. They understood the aspirations of the Syrian people and provided them with the necessary support. As for their role in other fields, their assistance never stopped, but they seek to set a new strategy in dealing with the Syrian situation.”