Arabic media review

Rebels find a new foe: al-Qaeda

The Free Syrian Army battles the terror group; Egypt welcomes a top US official

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns meeting with Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, on Monday, July 15, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Facebook page of Egypt's army spokesman)
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns meeting with Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, on Monday, July 15, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Facebook page of Egypt's army spokesman)

As Assad’s forces make advances in a rebel-held neighborhood of Damascus, one daily reports on Tuesday that al-Qaeda is on the verge of forming its own statelet in northern Syria.

A commander in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) tells Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat that al-Qaeda has triumphed over the Free Syrian Army in a struggle to control two border crossings with Turkey: Bab Al-Hawa and Harem. Al-Qaeda has been assassinating FSA commanders over the past weeks and intends to declare an Islamic state in northern Syria on the first days of the Eid al-Fitr holiday that follows Ramadan.

The daily’s columnist Tareq Homayed claims that confrontation between al-Qaeda and “the Syrian people” was inevitable.

“Al-Qaeda is the accident, or the exception, and Syrian moderation is the constant,” writes Homayed.

“The danger in Syria today is that the Free Syrian Army is confronting all of the Assad regime, the Iranian fighters, Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shiite militias, and now al-Qaeda as well. It is easy to resort to conspiracy theories, especially since everywhere al-Qaeda is considered to be saturated with evil forces like Assad’s and Iran’s, who have long used al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Meanwhile, in the Syrian capital, Assad’s forces continue to gain ground.

“The regime advances in Qaboun using human shields,” reads the headline of the London-based daily Al-Hayat, featuring a heart-wrenching photo of young girls waiting in line to receive food to break their Ramadan fast in the city of Raqqa.

According to opposition sources on the ground, the Syrian army entered the north Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun with tanks after heavily shelling the area, in a bid to push the opposition back from the capital.

Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera reports that hundreds of families are besieged in Qaboun, unable to leave due to the many regime snipers deployed in the neighborhood.

FSA commander Muhammad Abul Huda tells Al-Jazeera that the opposition fighters are holed up in high-rise buildings while the regime forces have abducted a number of civilians who they are holding hostage to prevent the opposition from attacking.

Following American leaks that Israel was behind the airstrike in Latakia that reportedly destroyed Russian-made Yakhont missiles delivered to Syria, the editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi Tuesday wonders whether Assad will follow through with his threat and retaliate.

“We doubt [Assad] will do so, even though we wish he does,” reads the editorial. “The Syrian president has his priorities, and today his priority is fighting in the domestic front and continuing to bombard Homs and other Syrian cities, not the Golan. The second reason [he won’t strike] seems to be his inability to respond. Some analysts say that the Syrian president will postpone his revenge until he receives the S-300 missile system, which could thwart any Israeli strike.

“It is expected that Israel will succeed in preventing the deployment of this system in Syria, since Russia itself seems hesitant about delivering it.”

An American in Cairo

The arrival in Cairo of Deputy Secretary of State William Burns is making major headlines in the Arab media Tuesday, which regards the visit as the end of the American relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Washington turns the Morsi page, and the Brotherhood escalates against the army,” reads the headline of A-Sharq Al-Awsat, featuring an image of Burns meeting General Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, Egypt’s defense minister and leader of the military coup against Mohammed Morsi on June 30.

According to A-Sharq Al-Awsat, Burns “expressed his appreciation for the Egyptian army and its role in fulfilling the public will. But he also stressed the wish of the American administration to see a peaceful and democratic transition according to a clear map.”

Al-Hayat, for its part, leads with Burns’s assertion that the United States is not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood it its struggle to regain control over Egypt.

Strangely, Egypt’s leading dailies Al-Ahram and Al-Masry Al-Youm make little reference to Burns’s visit, focusing instead on the new government of Hazem el-Beblawi expected to be announced within hours (including Sissi as deputy prime minister for security affairs), and on the terrorist attack in Sinai, which cost the lives of three laborers.

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