Written evidence from THE SOUTHERN FRONT (ISI0006)

The Free Syrian Army

 

 

SUMMARY

 

-          Daesh – also known as IS, ISIS or ISIL – poses an existential threat to Syria and to the Syrian people.  Its terror and brutality have no place in a Syria that is free, democratic and governed by the rule of law.

 

-          Daesh must be degraded and destroyed.  But to achieve this objective, we cannot focus on Daesh alone.  We must target the root cause of Daesh’s existence and its greatest benefactor: the Syrian regime.

 

-          Over the past four years, the Syrian regime has deliberately aided and abetted Daesh terrorists. We have witnessed how the regime has consistently focussed its force on our moderate opposition forces while ignoring Daesh on the battlefield.

 

-          Through its relentless aerial assaults, including its use of deadly barrel bombs, it has driven recruits to Daesh ranks, diminished the capacity of moderate fighters to combat Daesh, and limited our ability to establish effective governance.

 

-          To destroy Daesh, the international community must take measures to tackle the Syrian regime and empower those on the front lines of the fight against terror, who are best able to provide an effective alternative to radical extremists. 

 

-          In the short term, our allies should take measures to stop indiscriminate aerial bombardment, including through the enforcement of a no-bombing zone.

 

DETAIL

  1. We, the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, are a coalition of more than 50 vetted Syrian revolutionary forces who are on the frontlines in Syria leading the battle against the oppression of the Assad regime and the extremism of Daesh.  Like so many of our brothers and sisters across Syria, we have been repulsed by the terror and brutality that has taken over our country throughout the past four years, started by Assad in 2011 and now perpetuated by his allies—Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia—as well as counter-revolutionary terrorist extremist groups like Daesh.  At the onset of our Revolution in Syria in 2011, we raised arms as a moderate armed opposition because we had no alternative—surrendering our country to terrorists and dictators would have meant abandoning our people’s commitment and right to freedom.

 

  1. Our commitment to ensuring our country’s transition to democracy continues.  We aspire to establish a Syria in which all of our brothers and sisters have equal rights and responsibilities under the law, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender or sect.  We seek accountability and transitional justice, according to which all Syrians responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity are held to account.  Our goal is not to dismantle state institutions, but to preserve and reform them (for more on our commitments see Annex I).

 

  1. In working to achieve this goal, we have achieved significant territorial advances across southern Syria, including in Daraa, Quneitra, and rural Damascus.  As a result, our forces are now within 100 km of Damascus (Annex II provides an overview of our territorial control).  Our ability to win, hold and govern territory across southern Syria has enabled the Southern Front to develop a reputation as the best organised and most effective revolutionary opposition group in Syria, capable of:

 

    1. Taking on the Syrian regime, including by overtaking the second larger military facility in Southern Syria, known as Brigade 52 military facility in Deraa, in addition to the Nasib border crossing between Syria and Jordan;
    2. Confronting extremists like Daesh who are enemies of the freedom and human rights we are fighting to bring to our people in Syria.
    3. Working closely and cooperatively with civil society figures on the ground to build local governance and develop and maintain civil facilities in liberated areas under our control.  We engage with those representing minorities groups, to ensure that we build trust among the communities we protect and do not inflame or exacerbate sectarian tensions.   
  1. We have made such accomplishments in spite of—not because of—the West’s efforts to degrade and destroy Daesh.  Since coalition strikes against Daesh first began in Syria in September 2014, we have seen this deadly terrorist group make some of its most important territorial feats.  By some estimates, its forces now control as much as half of Syrian territory.  In recent weeks, they have even spread into Aleppo as a consequence of Russian airstrikes against moderate forces that were combating Daesh.  As a result, Daesh have made gains in areas where our brothers in the North had successfully held off Daesh for nearly two years, since the beginning of the 2014.

 

  1. We have also seen the crisis in Syria continue unabated.  Since the start of the anti-Daesh airstrikes, an additional 50,000 Syrians have been killed.  The number of Syrians living in besieged areas has nearly doubled.  And the number of refugees has risen from 3 to 4.1 million.

 

  1. We need to face the facts: the West’s fight against Daesh isn’t working.  Daesh is getting stronger throughout Syria, not weaker.  The humanitarian situation inside Syria is only worsening.  In order to successfully achieve the United Kingdom’s goal’s in defeating Daesh and bringing stability to Syria, a new strategy but be considered. 

 

  1. To successfully defeat Daesh, our allies need to recognise that Daesh’s barbarism is being bred and bolstered by Assad’s brutality.  Every civilian that he kills, every home that he flattens and every dream that he destroys adds further fodder to Daesh’s ranks.  Daesh needs Assad, just as Assad needs Daesh.  That is why just 6 percent of Assad’s air attacks focus on Daesh targets—and just 7 percent of Russian attacks are doing so today.

 

  1. To defeat Daesh we need to lay the basis for a future democratic government.  Doing so requires our allies to adopt a comprehensive approach that stops the Syrian regime’s relentless war on civilians and on opposition-held areas, and one that empowers those Syrians who are on the frontlines of the war against terror.

 

  1. The first step in developing such an approach lies in stopping indiscriminate aerial bombardment – the biggest killer of civilians in Syria.  Assad’s reliance on air strikes—now with Russia’s help—serves four primary purposes, which are to:

 

a)      terrorise and kill civilians.  We estimate that around 200 people are killed each week by Assad’s bombs.  Most of the victims are civilians.  Those who are not are revolutionary opposition forces who are actively engaged in the two-front war against Daesh and Assad.

b)     eliminate the revolutionary opposition.  9 out of 10 of Assad’s airstrikes hit non-Daesh targets.  The same is true for Russian strikes in Syria. These strikes serve to push back revolutionary groups, undermine our defences and open the door for extremist forces.  As we see in Aleppo, airstrikes against moderates have helped Daesh siege the towns of Tal Qrah, Tal Sousin and Kfar Qares north of Aleppo, as well as the Infantry School—enabling it to come within 16 km of Aleppo city.

c)      empty opposition-held areas.  Across Syria, we see civilians fleeing air strikes.  Many are leaving for neighbouring states, whose governments can no longer cope under the growing strain of Syrian refugee.  As a result, growing numbers are leaving Syria to Europe and elsewhere.

d)     prevent democratic governance from emerging.  Airstrikes make it extremely difficult for moderate opposition groups to fill the void of civilian administration and service provision.  They prevent our ability to govern effectively and to provide the services our people need.

  1. Stopping indiscriminate aerial bombardment would save lives, stem the refugee crisis, uphold international law, free-up our fellow revolutionary fighters to fight Daesh, and allow moderates to begin to provide the services and governance that can serve as both an alternative to Daesh and to Assad. 

 

  1. The Southern Front is therefore joining our brothers’ and sisters’ calls for a no-bombing zone to achieve an end to the bombs in Syria, and asks that the United Kingdom take a lead in this important effort. 

 

Annex I: The Pledge of the Syrian Revolutionaries from the Battlefield; The Transitional Phase

Annex II: Map of Territories Controlled by the Southern Front


Annex 1

Syrian Arab Republic

Free Syrian Army

Southern Front

 

The Pledge of the Syrian Revolutionaries from the Battlefields

The need to resort to armed conflict resulted directly from the violent repression of an Assad regime that remains unwilling to adopt meaningful reforms that genuinely respond to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people. Sadly, those peaceful demands were answered with bullets and tanks. To defend our lives and the lives of our loved ones, to protect our dignity and secure a brighter future for our country, we had no choice but to respond in kind to the regime's actions.

Yet, it is clear to those of us who defend the people of the Syrian revolution as they continue to strive toward freedom that our actions are accompanied by responsibilities. Therefore, from the battlefields of our homeland, we announce our unconditional commitment to international law and our unconditional commitment to respect for human rights and International Humanitarian Law.

We herewith dedicate ourselves to the following responsibilities:

As we are duty bound to protect the principles of the Syrian revolution and the responsibilities noted above, which derive from the extant body of human rights law and International Humanitarian Law, every fighter participating in the Syrian revolution is considered to have acknowledged that commitment. Further, we are committed in our respect for the rules of international human rights law and other applicable international norms, even if they are not mentioned specifically in this text.

 

The Southern Front

The Free Syrian Army

STATEMENT NO. 4

THE TRANSITIONAL PHASE

10.12.2014

 

The collapse of the current regime will not be the end of the Syrian people’s revolution. The end of the regime will be only the start of a new and, hopefully, final phase of the people’s struggle for freedom. In order to ensure that the final phase succeeds with the establishment of a new national model of governance based on respect for human dignity and a rebirth of Syria’s tremendous potential, it is imperative that all nationalist forces commit to a course of action during the period of transition from authoritarianism that will fulfill the popular will.

Therefore,

The Southern Front announces that it will dedicate its efforts during the period of transition following the collapse of the regime to supporting:

First: the protection of all Syrian citizens, their property and their rights without any distinction of religion, culture, ethnicity, or political affiliation in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and the international standards of Human Rights.

Second: the maintenance of Syrian state institutions, including all ministries and military institutions.

Third: the integrity of the economic and service infrastructure of the state, including telecommunications, energy, water, and public and private transportation networks.

Fourth: the establishment of a process of inclusive, national, political reconstruction.

GENERAL FRAMEWORK

1- The Civil Defense Force:

Once the Assad regime collapses, the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army intends to transition from a military organization into a civilian defense force to contribute to establishing the appropriate conditions to enable a successful political transition in Syria. Among the primary objectives of a civilian defense force will be: protecting all citizens, maintaining all state institutions, and securing the infrastructure for the economic prosperity of the country.

The Joint Command of the Southern Front is currently preparing itself for the moment of transition and is committed to implementing a detailed day-after plan to protect Damascus (the seat of government), prevent looting, protect citizens and state employees, and ensure that governmental institutions remain fully operational.

2- The Transitional Administration:

To guide the period of transition, the Southern Front will support efforts to establish a Transitional Administration. The Southern Front believes that no current state employees, identified for their competence and loyal service to the state, should be excluded from continuing to serve. In addition, the Transitional Administration should be open to senior defected government officials who return to the country to help in its reconstruction. The Southern Front, which by this time will have transformed into the the Civil Defense Forces, will support such an interim governing arrangement granted that it is non-political, and led by technocrats whose terms will end upon the completion of the interim or transitional phase. .

The first task of the Transitional Administration will be announcing the cessation of all military operations and demanding foreign fighters to leave the country within a specified period of time. The Transitional Administration will also take steps to ensure that state institutions continue their routine work. It will announce to government officials including the judicial authority that their work will be guaranteed within the framework of the General Law. The civilian police will be requested to continue their work. The armed forces will be requested to remain temporarily in their barracks until security and order restored.

The current constitution will be immediately suspended and replaced by the original constitution of 1950 as an interim constitution until the drafting of a permanent constitution for the country that shall be approved by a popular referendum.

To ensure neutrality with respect to key decisions that need to be made during the critical transitional period, the Transitional Administration should issue an immediate appeal to the United Nations to form a “Syrian Transitional Phase Office" in Damascus as soon as possible with a special envoy of the UN Secretary General. This Office will be necessary to advise the Transitional Administration, coordinate foreign aid, and identify key requirements for the transition. It is also needed to recommend and supply experts and advisers to help rebuild the institutions of the state.

To ease the pressure on the Transitional Administration, and to benefit from the best Syrian minds and intellects in guiding the transition, the “Syrian Transitional Phase Office" will be requested to appoint a Syrian Advisory Committee composed of qualified professionals to draft a framework and plans for the transitional period, according to a specific timetable. The Office will also request the presence of a UN observer missions and specialist teams.

The key tasks for UN and the Syrian Advisory Committee will be:

First: to establish the High Electoral Commission.

Second: to oversee general elections to choose an “interim” legislative authority within six months, paving the way for the formation of a constituent committee for the drafting of the constitution.

Third: to form a constituent committee to draft the permanent constitution for the country within one year.

Fourth: to hold a public referendum on the constitution after the completion of the work of the constituent committee.

Fifth: to implement national elections for a new parliament and government.

All bodies and formed by the “Syrian Transitional Phase Office" or by the Advisory Committee should be independent bodies. They should advice the Transitional Administration, but they should not be subject to it or overlap with it. The mandate of the Transitional Administration should be considered officially over after the holding of elections for a new parliament and government.

Long Live Free Syria

The Southern Front 10.12.2014

 


Annex II: Map of Territories Controlled by the Southern Front