Qais Al Qatahneh seen in a video grab from YouTube posted by the Omari brigades on March 19.
Qais Al Qatahneh seen in a video grab from YouTube posted by the Omari brigades on March 19.

Gunfight shows demise of moderates on Syria’s southern front



AMMAN // The meeting was bad tempered from the start and quickly spiralled out of control.

First, the two opponents of president Bashar Al Assad shouted at each other, then the shoving began, before weapons were drawn and shots fired.

Qais Al Qatahneh, a leading rebel commander, and Qaisar Habib, an opposition media activist, men ostensibly united in their desire to defeat the Syrian regime on the country's crucial southern front, instead turned their guns on each other with fatal results.

Capt Al Qatahneh died from gunshot wounds on Thursday, while Mr Habib, hit by several bullets, remains seriously injured.

It was a small incident in a conflict that has killed more than 190,000 people but the fates of the two men involved highlights the complexities of Syria's four years of uprising-turned-rebellion, and the rivalries that have hamstrung a fractured opposition.

The killing of Capt Al Qatahneh, who headed the Omari brigades in Deraa, part of the powerful Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF), is also another blow to the more moderate rebels backed by governments in the West and the Arabian Gulf. Their influence has been

by Jabhat Al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an even more radical group that has yet to gain serious direct influence in Deraa but which has taken over swathes of Syria and Iraq.

“Qatahneh is a symbol of the revolution,” said a moderate rebel commander in Deraa, the southern city where the uprising began in March 2011.

“If he was killed by the regime, we would have called it a slap in the face. But his death came as a shock to us. Nobody would have expected that Qatahneh would be killed at the hands of another member of the opposition.”

Capt Al Qatahneh, was among the first wave of

from the Assad regime in July 2011, four months after the peaceful uprising began.

He created a Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalion that included several other defectors and became an influential member of the SRF, a group set up in December under the FSA banner, as part of an effort to unite and better coordinate fractured, moderate rebel units.

The SRF played a prominent role in battles against the regime in Deraa, with the Omari brigades financed largely by Saudi Arabia, according to rebels and activists in southern Syria.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have

into the war effort aimed at toppling the Assad regime, significant amounts of which have been channelled into the southern front via Jordan.

Mr Habib, a name he took to disguise his real identity, is also symbolic of the frequently bewildering conflict.

He studied law at Aleppo university but never went into practice, instead taking up the challenge offered by the Arab Spring to pull down corrupt, autocratic regimes and replace them with something more accountable and representative of a new generation.

Instead of becoming a lawyer, he became a media activist — a local, grassroots journalist openly sympathetic with the rebel cause, reporting from rebel held territory — and was in regular contact with Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya satellite channels, according to opposition sources in Deraa.

In those reports and in comments posted to opposition Facebook pages, he was routinely critical of both the Syrian regime and rebels, including what he saw as military failures by opposition units, among them the Omari brigades.

That increasingly won him enemies within rebel factions, which, mirroring a regime that allows little freedom for the press, have grown ever more intolerant of media critics.

During Thursday's meeting, Capt Al Qatahneh had demanded Mr Habib, a member of the Shammar tribe, which has strong clan connections in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Jordan, ask for approval before publishing news and threatened to “split him in half if he refused”, said an opposition activist.

However, in recent months, Mr Habib was also said by his detractors to have become closer to the more radical Islamic side of the rebellion, including Jabhat Al Nusra. His journalism increasingly represented and espoused an extreme outlook and had become dangerous, said another Deraa-based activist.

An Omari brigade fighter went further and said his unit believed Mr Habib to be a full member of Al Nusra and that, before the shooting incident, there had been calls to arrest him for involvement in Al Nusra operations.

The exact circumstances surrounding Thursday's shoot-out remain unclear, with activists and rebel fighters offering different explanations as to how it erupted.

What is not in dispute is the immediate outcome. Both men were shot and seriously wounded. Capt Al Qatahneh was whisked across the border to Jordan for medical treatment and died in hospital in Ramtha the same night. Mr Habib survived, but is in a critical condition with bullets in his abdomen and groin.

Tensions in Deraa have been high following the shootings, with new checkpoints set up by rebel units in parts of the province, including Tal Shehab, a district 12 kilometres north-west of Deraa city, to prevent clashes between members of the men's tribes and supporting rebel factions.

“People are on edge here and we are expecting these tensions to increase,” said a rebel commander who travels often between Jordan and Syria. Fearing reprisals, the Jordanian authorities established a security cordon around Ramtha hospital while Cpt Al Qatahneh was receiving treatment.

“We don't know the exact reasons for Qatahneh's death. There were several stories regarding a dispute…but we fear this will result in more infighting,” said Abu Qais Al Hourani, an activist with the Yarmouk Division, another rebel group that operates mainly in eastern Deraa province.

“Qatahneh's faction is well armed and he has relatives and officers in the SRF and because they are also Bedouins, they will not be quiet,” he said.

Extended family structures in Deraa remain strong, with cultural traditions of avenging the death of clan members if no satisfactory agreement can be reached to diffuse a situation.

The Omari brigades fighter said his faction had requested a local Islamic legal committee, which includes tribal elders and clerics, and which draws broad support among civilians and armed groups, to investigate the shooting and establish what punishment, if any, should be imposed.

“If the other side doesn't agree to take this to the Islamic committee then we will attack Habib's supporters,” the fighter said.

Even if the immediate standoff can be resolved, the shooting has placed further strain on already fraying rebel unity on the southern front.

In contrast to widespread rebel factionalism and infighting on the northern and eastern fronts, the southern region has provided a relatively well-coordinated and coherent opposition to Mr Al Assad's forces.

That unity has, however, been under serious strain from the growing power of Al Nusra, once a minor element in the south but now a powerful enough player that, in May, it detained a well connected FSA officer, Col Ahmed Nehmeh, saying it would put him on trial for treason against the rebel cause.

Col Nehmeh's fate remains unknown. His detention was widely seen as embarrassing for the western- and Gulf-backed rebel factions in the FSA and SRF, both allied to the detained officer but powerless to get him released.

psands@thenational.ae

THE HOLDOVERS

Director: Alexander Payne

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Dominic Sessa

Rating: 4.5/5

TWISTERS

Director:+Lee+Isaac+Chung

Starring:+Glen+Powell,+Daisy+Edgar-Jones,+Anthony+Ramos

Rating:+2.5/5

UAE SQUAD

Omar Abdulrahman (Al Hilal), Ali Khaseif, Ali Mabkhout, Salem Rashed, Khalifa Al Hammadi, Khalfan Mubarak, Zayed Al Ameri, Mohammed Al Attas (Al Jazira), Khalid Essa, Ahmed Barman, Ryan Yaslam, Bandar Al Ahbabi (Al Ain), Habib Fardan, Tariq Ahmed, Mohammed Al Akbari (Al Nasr), Ali Saleh, Ali Salmin (Al Wasl), Adel Al Hosani, Ali Hassan Saleh, Majed Suroor (Sharjah), Ahmed Khalil, Walid Abbas, Majed Hassan, Ismail Al Hammadi (Shabab Al Ahli), Hassan Al Muharrami, Fahad Al Dhahani (Bani Yas), Mohammed Al Shaker (Ajman)

The Land between Two Rivers: Writing in an Age of Refugees
Tom Sleigh, Graywolf Press

Diriyah project at a glance

- Diriyah’s 1.9km King Salman Boulevard, a Parisian Champs-Elysees-inspired avenue, is scheduled for completion in 2028
- The Royal Diriyah Opera House is expected to be completed in four years
- Diriyah’s first of 42 hotels, the Bab Samhan hotel, will open in the first quarter of 2024
- On completion in 2030, the Diriyah project is forecast to accommodate more than 100,000 people
- The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will contribute $7.2 billion to the kingdom’s GDP
- It will create more than 178,000 jobs and aims to attract more than 50 million visits a year
- About 2,000 people work for the Diriyah Company, with more than 86 per cent being Saudi citizens

Company profile

Name: Belong
Based: Dubai
Founders: Michael Askew and Matthew Gaziano
Sector: Technology
Total funding: $3.5 million from crowd funding and angel investors
Number of employees:
12

Traits of Chinese zodiac animals

Tiger:independent, successful, volatile
Rat:witty, creative, charming
Ox:diligent, perseverent, conservative
Rabbit:gracious, considerate, sensitive
Dragon:prosperous, brave, rash
Snake:calm, thoughtful, stubborn
Horse:faithful, energetic, carefree
Sheep:easy-going, peacemaker, curious
Monkey:family-orientated, clever, playful
Rooster:honest, confident, pompous
Dog:loyal, kind, perfectionist
Boar:loving, tolerant, indulgent  

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League final:

Who: Real Madrid v Liverpool
Where: NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
When: Saturday, May 26, 10.45pm (UAE)
TV: Match on BeIN Sports

Oppenheimer

Director: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh, Matt Damon

Rating: 5/5

Soldier F

“I was in complete disgust at the fact that only one person was to be charged for Bloody Sunday.

“Somebody later said to me, 'you just watch - they'll drop the charge against him'. And sure enough, the charges against Soldier F would go on to be dropped.

“It's pretty hard to think that 50 years on, the State is still covering up for what happened on Bloody Sunday.”

Jimmy Duddy, nephew of John Johnson

Biography

Favourite book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Holiday choice: Anything Disney-related

Proudest achievement: Receiving a presidential award for foreign services.

Family: Wife and three children.

Like motto: You always get what you ask for, the universe listens.

WORLD CUP SEMI-FINALS

England v New Zealand

(Saturday, 12pm UAE)

Wales v South Africa

(Sunday, 12pm, UAE)

 

Where to donate in the UAE

The Emirates Charity Portal

You can donate to several registered charities through a “donation catalogue”. The use of the donation is quite specific, such as buying a fan for a poor family in Niger for Dh130.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments

The site has an e-donation service accepting debit card, credit card or e-Dirham, an electronic payment tool developed by the Ministry of Finance and First Abu Dhabi Bank.

Al Noor Special Needs Centre

You can donate online or order Smiles n’ Stuff products handcrafted by Al Noor students. The centre publishes a wish list of extras needed, starting at Dh500.

Beit Al Khair Society

Beit Al Khair Society has the motto “From – and to – the UAE,” with donations going towards the neediest in the country. Its website has a list of physical donation sites, but people can also contribute money by SMS, bank transfer and through the hotline 800-22554.

Dar Al Ber Society

Dar Al Ber Society, which has charity projects in 39 countries, accept cash payments, money transfers or SMS donations. Its donation hotline is 800-79.

Dubai Cares

Dubai Cares provides several options for individuals and companies to donate, including online, through banks, at retail outlets, via phone and by purchasing Dubai Cares branded merchandise. It is currently running a campaign called Bookings 2030, which allows people to help change the future of six underprivileged children and young people.

Emirates Airline Foundation

Those who travel on Emirates have undoubtedly seen the little donation envelopes in the seat pockets. But the foundation also accepts donations online and in the form of Skywards Miles. Donated miles are used to sponsor travel for doctors, surgeons, engineers and other professionals volunteering on humanitarian missions around the world.

Emirates Red Crescent

On the Emirates Red Crescent website you can choose between 35 different purposes for your donation, such as providing food for fasters, supporting debtors and contributing to a refugee women fund. It also has a list of bank accounts for each donation type.

Gulf for Good

Gulf for Good raises funds for partner charity projects through challenges, like climbing Kilimanjaro and cycling through Thailand. This year’s projects are in partnership with Street Child Nepal, Larchfield Kids, the Foundation for African Empowerment and SOS Children's Villages. Since 2001, the organisation has raised more than $3.5 million (Dh12.8m) in support of over 50 children’s charities.

Noor Dubai Foundation

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched the Noor Dubai Foundation a decade ago with the aim of eliminating all forms of preventable blindness globally. You can donate Dh50 to support mobile eye camps by texting the word “Noor” to 4565 (Etisalat) or 4849 (du).

Astroworld
Travis Scott
Grand Hustle/Epic/Cactus Jack

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

RESULTS

5pm: Handicap (PA) Dh70,000 1,400m
Winner: AF Tathoor, Tadhg O’Shea (jockey), Ernst Oertel (trainer)
5.30pm: Handicap (TB) Dh70,000 1,000m
Winner: Dahawi, Antonio Fresu, Musabah Al Muhairi
6pm: Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 2,000m
Winner: Aiz Alawda, Fernando Jara, Ahmed Al Mehairbi
6.30pm: Handicap (PA) Dh70,000 2,000m
Winner: ES Nahawand, Fernando Jara, Mohammed Daggash
7pm: Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 1,600m
Winner: Winked, Connor Beasley, Abdallah Al Hammadi
7.30pm: Al Ain Mile Group 3 (PA) Dh350,000 1,600m
Winner: Somoud, Connor Beasley, Ahmed Al Mehairbi
8pm: Handicap (PA) Dh70,000 1,600m
Winner: Al Jazi, Fabrice Veron, Eric Lemartinel

Our family matters legal consultant

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

In-demand jobs and monthly salaries
  • Technology expert in robotics and automation: Dh20,000 to Dh40,000 
  • Energy engineer: Dh25,000 to Dh30,000 
  • Production engineer: Dh30,000 to Dh40,000 
  • Data-driven supply chain management professional: Dh30,000 to Dh50,000 
  • HR leader: Dh40,000 to Dh60,000 
  • Engineering leader: Dh30,000 to Dh55,000 
  • Project manager: Dh55,000 to Dh65,000 
  • Senior reservoir engineer: Dh40,000 to Dh55,000 
  • Senior drilling engineer: Dh38,000 to Dh46,000 
  • Senior process engineer: Dh28,000 to Dh38,000 
  • Senior maintenance engineer: Dh22,000 to Dh34,000 
  • Field engineer: Dh6,500 to Dh7,500
  • Field supervisor: Dh9,000 to Dh12,000
  • Field operator: Dh5,000 to Dh7,000

Left Bank: Art, Passion and Rebirth of Paris 1940-1950

Agnes Poirer, Bloomsbury

The Little Mermaid

Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem
Rating: 2/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Mascotte Health

Started: 2023

Based: Miami, US

Founder: Bora Hamamcioglu

Sector: Online veterinary service provider

Investment stage: $1.2 million raised in seed funding

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022

First match: November 20
Final 16 round: December 3 to 6
Quarter-finals: December 9 and 10
Semi-finals: December 13 and 14
Final: December 18