Vicken Cheterian

Syria, two assassinations

The assassination of two Syrians last week shows that forces for the war still prevail. 

The first assassination was the December 25 killing of Zahran Alloush, the commander of Jaish ul-Islam, with five of his chief lieutenants. He was killed in a Russian air raid where ten missiles struck his secret command structure in East Ghouta, the Damascus countryside, which was under the control of his armed group.

Zahran Alloush reflects all the contradictions of the Syrian revolution. He was a son of salafi preacher who was arrested in 2009, and released in summer 2011 with a number of other militant Islamists, while the Syrian secret police was arresting hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. The act was seen as part of Bashar al-Asad’s strategy to push the opposition movement towards radical Islam and armed rebellion, which indeed happened.

Alloush was controversial for adopting a sectarian discourse, exposing Alawi civilians taken prisoner in iron cages, for flirting with al-Qaeda in Syria, while talking about democracy and protection of minorities in his statements made to the western media. It was in the region under his control that four human rights activists, including the famous lawyer Razan Zaytouna were kidnapped in December 2013, and their fate remains unknown.

Yet, Alloush and his fighters were defending the impoverished population of Ghouta, under siege by Syrian Army, its population under constant bombing and forced to starve. The region includes the town of Duma, which was bombarded by chemical bombs in 2013, killing indiscriminately over a thousand of its population. It is not clear whether Jaish ul-Islam is institutionally strong enough to survive the decapitation of its leadership. Syria has shown two other examples: in November 2013, Syrian Army airplanes had bombarded and killed Abdel Qader Saleh, the commander of Liwa al-Tawheed, the strongest rebel armed groups in the north at the time. Yet, his group did not survive the killing of its leader. On the other hand, Ahrar ul-Sham survived a September 2014 bombing that killed most of its top leaders.

Most importantly, the killing of Zahran Alloush comes in a time when a number of Syrian opposition politicians and armed groups, including Alloush and his fighters, agreed for a political process to end the bleeding. This assassination aims at killing the political process, as Russia and the regime in Damascus refuse the participation of Jaish ul-Islam, as well as Ahrar al-Sham – two of the largest rebel fighting groups – in any political process. 

On December 27, Naji Jerf, Syrian dissident editor and film director was assassinated with silencers in Gaziantep. He collaborated with “Raqqa is Being Slaughteres Silently, The Syrian Campaign Against ISIS” and his most recent film was to expose how ISIS arrested, tortured and assassinated dozens of opposition activists, while the jihadi group controlled parts of Aleppo city.This is the second time that a Syrian opposition activist is assassinated in a Turkish city, following the November 2015 beheading of Ibrahim Abdul Qader in the city of Urfa. Evidently, Turkey is not safe for peaceful Syrian dissidents anymore. 

The world seems to tolerate the bleeding of Syria, after over two hundred thousand casualties, as if the rebirth of Syria is forbidden.