The Syrian Free Army chief General Selim Idriss on Wednesday rejected his dismissal by opposition leaders and regional unit commanders pledged to keep fighting under his command.
Speaking in a video statement flanked by several top field commanders of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council, the sacked rebel chief said: “We... have been asked to start working on a total restructuring of the SMC.”
Idriss lashed out at the opposition’s defense minister, Assaad Mustafa, who reportedly backed his replacement on Sunday by Brigadier General Abdel Ilah al-Bashir.
He described Mustafa’s decisions as “improvised and individual.”
With the alleged backing of Mustafa and opposition chief Ahmad Jarba, the FSA’s larger Higher Military Council had on Sunday replaced Idriss, citing the “difficulties faced by the Syrian revolution” in its battle with the regime.
In an online video posted late on Tuesday, unit commanders representing relatively secular rebels in Syria’s five main battle zones denounced the decision to fire Idriss and accused National Coalition leaders of exacerbating rebel divisions.
“(We) consider the dismissal of the head of the General Staff, General Selim Idriss, null and illegitimate,” Fateh Hassoun, FSA commander for central Syria, said in the video. He added Idriss’s backers would keep fighting under his command, Reuters reported.
“No group that is not present on the country’s soil has the right to take a crucial decision that does not represent the views of the forces working on the ground,” he said, reading
from a statement.
It was not immediately possible to identify all the men in the video, who referred to themselves as “leaders of the fronts and military councils ... in Syria” and were dressed in military fatigues.
One of the men, Mohammad al-Aboud, the FSA commander for Syria’s eastern front, confirmed by phone that he opposed the decision, having not been consulted.
Idriss had been voted in by military councils on the ground.
Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, a well-connected rebel in Syria said Idriss’s removal was decided in a “secret meeting” of the Higher Military Council, which many key rebels have abandoned in recent months.
“Regardless of Idriss’s shortcomings, this is a military coup,” said the rebel.
“The main problem is: why weren’t all the military councils called in to vote?”
Idriss had long faced criticism by rebels on the ground for failing to secure more weapons from foreign backers.
But an FSA source told AFP that it was not Idriss’s fault that foreign governments had chosen to channel the bulk of their support directly to rebel units on the ground rather than through him.
“General Selim Idriss did everything he could to strengthen the (FSA),” the source said, asking not to be identified.
“The Supreme Military Council has in the past year received only $3 million in assistance,” the source added.
This was in addition to “some assistance from a Western country, which then stopped,” the source added, without naming the country.
Britain and the United States suspended their non-lethal aid to Idriss’s FSA in December after Islamist fighters seized its warehouses on the Syrian-Turkish border.
But activists on the ground scoffed at the uproar in the SMC over Idriss’s dismissal, describing the body as “irrelevant.”
“The SMC is very weak and represents nothing in comparison with the big groups fighting on the ground,” said Nazeer al-Khatib from Aleppo.
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