The US is “ready to de facto ally” with its archenemies from Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria as part of its “obsession” by using “so-called moderate” groups to overthrow the Syrian government, former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, told RT in an exclusive interview.
The US “is effectively siding with a branch of Al-Qaeda” in Syria, Peter Ford told RT, speaking of Washington’s recent request to Moscow not to target Al-Nusra positions with air strikes for the sake of moderate opposition groups located in the same area.
“We can only hope that it is a temporary aberration and they will soon return to their senses,” Ford told RT, urging the US government to abandon their policy of de facto aiding Al-Qaeda’s affiliate. He also expressed his support for Russia’s “very reasonable demand that the forces of the so-called moderate opposition disentangle themselves from the embraces of Al-Nusra and allow Al-Nusra to be bombed.”
The former ambassador also stressed that there is “virtually no difference” between Al-Nusra and such groups as Jaish al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Fatah as they are “indistinguishable” in terms of ideology, sectarian bias and their practical methods consisting of “massacres and ruthlessness.”
He also emphasized that the only difference between Al-Nusra and other groups that western countries, including the US, portray as “moderate opposition” lies in the field of tactics.
“The so-called moderate groups pay lip service to the idea that Syria might end up with a secular system after negotiations provided only that Assad will go. They pay lip service to this but anyone, who believes it must be a fool but the Americans use this as a reason or the pretext not to go after these groups,” Ford said.
The former ambassador denounced the US’ “obsession with getting rid of Assad, which they euphemistically call ‘transition’ in the context of the negotiations” as an attempt to carry out another regime change as they previously did in Iraq and Libya.
“They are keen, it seems, to repeat the same mistakes in Damascus,” Ford said, commenting on the US continuous efforts to oust the Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.
At the same time, he warned that “it is really dangerous to mainstream these jihadi groups with a handful of genuinely democratic secular oppositionists, who are the tiny minority of the opposition on the ground,” referring to such groups as Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, which the US, France, the UK, and Ukraine refused to designate as terrorist organizations and add them to a UN Security Council (UNSC) blacklist.
On June 5, the Syrian Foreign Ministry sent a letter to the UN, in which it alleged that some of the so-called “moderate”opposition groups had been shelling residential areas in Aleppo, Syria, alongside Al-Nusra Front. The ministry also accused some regional powers, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, of “sponsoring terrorists” and attempting to derail the peace negotiations in Geneva.
The letter designated such groups as Jaish al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jaish al-Fatah as Al Nusra’s “affiliates” and criticized some members of the UNSC for their refusal to add them to the UN list of terrorist groups.
In the meantime, terrorist shellings of Syrian cities have resulted in the deaths of more than 270 civilians within the last 24 hours, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. Al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham have also conducted joint attacks in the Kurdish-controlled Sheikh Maqsood neighborhood in the northern part of Aleppo that particularly left 40 people dead.
These shelling and attacks, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, became possible due to the fact that the terrorists’ positions were not targeted for some time by Russian air forces at the request of the United States. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Washington asked Russia not to target Al-Nusra Front precisely because the terrorist group is sharing territory with some “moderate” opposition groups that might also potentially be hit in airstrikes.
US Backed “Moderates” Massacre Villagers
Eyewitnesses from Zara, an Alawite Syrian village, have revealed brutal killings and kidnappings at the hands of Ahrar al-Sham and Al-Nusra fighters to RT. This week, Western powers blocked the militant group’s inclusion on the UN terrorist list.
Ahrar al-Sham, which espouses a strict Salafist form of Sunni Islam, reportedly fought alongside the Al-Nusra Front, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, which is not protected by the US and Russia-mediated ceasefire in Syria.
The group admitted responsibility for the raid but claimed that it had not mistreated those who did not resist.
“Civilians were not targeted. On the contrary factions made great effort to spare civilians and deal with prisoners humanely,”said an Ahrar al-Sham spokesman in a statement, cited by Reuters.
However, residents of the village who spoke with RT Arabic painted a different picture of events, describing the raid on the settlement as a war crime.
“They killed elderly people, took children and women as captives. We want to find out what happened to them afterwards. We know nothing about them,” Abdou Khalifa, a villager, who himself sustained wounds, told the channel.
“Strangers came to our village. Most of them were foreigners, we understood that they weren’t from Syria from the way they looked. They attacked our village, many were killed. My brother is among the dead, his children were wounded. They killed entire families,” said Ahmad Muhammad al Qasem.
“They perpetrated a massacre,” said another villager, Munzer Qasem. “I heard of two or three entire families killed. Abu Naval’s family was killed. He was an old man and was killed together with his daughters. They were slaughtered in their own house.”
Villagers said that “scores” of people were either killed or taken hostage by the Islamist raiders. The accounts tallied closely with those shown by Syrian state television and emerging on social media.
One of the gruesome images that emerged on social media showed Ahrar al-Sham fighters standing above several bloodied corpses of women. The group did not deny the veracity of the photograph, but insisted that the women bore arms, and had been killed in combat.
US refuses to blame Ahrar al-Sham
The incident comes as something of an embarrassment to Washington, after it defeated Russia’s long-standing proposal to designate the group, along with another militant movement, Jaish al-Islam, as terrorist organizations, for their radical ideology and co-operation with Al-Qaeda inspired terrorist movements.
If Russia’s initiative had been approved by the UN Security Council, the two groups would have become legitimate targets for Syrian, Russian and Western airstrikes, and would lose their place on the High Negotiation Committee, the Saudi-backed body that represents part of the fractured Syrian opposition during international peace talks.
But London, Paris, Washington and Kiev defeated Russia’s proposal, with a US mission spokesperson saying that designating “groups that are parties to the cessation of hostilities could have damaging consequences to the cessation just as we are trying to de-escalate the situation on the ground.”
The US State Department admitted that the incidents during the capture of Zara were “unacceptable and incomprehensible” but refused to pin the blame on Ahrar al-Sham or clearly condemn the group’s cooperation with Al-Nusra.
“Ashar al-Islam is not… a designated foreign terrorist organization and therefore is a party to the cessation. And our expectation of them is the same expectation we have for everybody else who is a party to the cessation, that they will observe it, that they will abide by it,” said a State Department spokesman during Friday’s press briefing in Washington.
“And we’ve said all along that we’ve seen some comingling, and we have seen even to some degree some troubling cooperation between certain opposition groups and al-Nusrah. Again, I’m not specifically talking about this attack.”
The spokesman also admitted that the State Department had not threatened the group with potential blacklisting for their cooperation with a designated terror organization, but reiterated that the US had made its expectations “very clear.”
“Those that are part of the HNC and the armed opposition, we have made very clear our expectations for their behavior and conduct with respect to the cessation of hostilities,” John Kirby said.
Gregory R. Copley from the International Strategic Studies Association believes that the reason Washington refuses to condemn or blacklist Ahrar Al-Sham is that the US is short of so-called moderate opposition allies in Syria,
“The only reason for the US not to brand them as a terrorist group is to keep them as an ally in the fight against President Assad, because the US doesn’t have many allies on the ground with any strength, so they are relying on these groups which have strong relationships with Saudi Arabia and Turkey as well,” Copley told RT.
Tacit US support for Ahrar Al-Sham, at a time of emerging reports of atrocities potentially committed by the group, blemishes Washington’s reputation, he said. The downside of such rhetoric is that “the US does look bad as a result,” Copley added. “You can’t have it both ways.”