Destroyed buildings after they were targeted in a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on the central Al Fardous rebel-held neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 29, 2015. Zein Al Rifai/AFP Photo
Destroyed buildings after they were targeted in a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on the central Al Fardous rebel-held neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on ApShow more

Syria’s new rebel alliance threatens Assad’s grip on power



BEIRUT // The once-forgotten front line in north-western Syria has come to the fore again as a new rebel alliance churns out a series of major victories against the forces of president Bashar Al Assad.

In just five weeks, the success of Jaysh Al Fateh - or The Army of Conquest - in Idlib province has put the Assad regime on the back foot, demoralised government troops in distant outposts and rallied rebel momentum.

Analysts say the alliance’s victories illustrate the growing dominance of Al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat Al Nusra, and a growing consensus by regional allies of Syria’s rebels to back more hardline forces.

The formation of Jaysh Al Fateh was announced on March 24 as a union of seven mostly hardline rebel militias, most notably the powerful Jabhat Al Nusra and Ahrar Al Sham groups.

Four days later, the coalition captured the provincial capital of Idlib. The only other provincial capital to have fallen from government hands is the eastern city of Raqqa, currently held by ISIL.

On Saturday, Jaysh Al Fateh continued its offensive to capture the city of Jisr Al Shughour. On Monday, they seized the Qarmeed army base from government forces after a Jabhat Al Nusra suicide bomber detonated a truck filled with explosives at the base’s entrance.

The advances in Idlib province have put the rebels within striking distance of regime strongholds in Hama and Latakia, the heartland of the Alawite sect and a bastion of government support.

The government’s control in Idlib has been reduced to a small finger of territory hugging the M4 highway.

“The regime appears to be weaker than ever in the history of the conflict,” said Lina Khatib, director of Beirut’s Carnegie Middle East Center.

The losses in Idlib were “a result of the regime’s growing manpower problems”, said Noah Bonsey, a Syria analyst with the International Crisis Group.

He said the Assad government was “unable to replace lost manpower with equally effective Syrian manpower”.

Going forward, Mr Bonsey said, the regime’s biggest defence challenge will be “dealing with the blow to morale from the speed of these rebel gains in Idlib”.

Ms Khatib said she does not expect to see a government attempt to retake Idlib.

“The places the regime has lost so far are not of strategic importance to it,” said Ms Khatib. “The Syrian army will not expend its energy on trying to retake Idlib.”

Rather, she said, the Syrian army will look to reinforce its power in places like Latakia and Damascus.

Ms Khatib credited the recent advances to the rebels’ major regional stakeholders - Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey - aligning their strategy and coordination more closely than before.

“Without this regional blessing, we would not be seeing on the ground support reaching these groups,” she said.

Joshua Landis, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies, said the US-led bombing campaign against ISIL that began last year allowed the militant group’s main rival - Jabhat Al Nusra - to expand, prosper and dominate.

No longer forced to battle ISIL on its flanks, Jabhat Al Nusra was free to consolidate power and turn its attention to moderate rebel groups which they easily routed, establishing dominance in north-western Syria.

Al Nusra’s defeat of moderate rebel factions “really placed Nusra as the alpha male, the alpha wolf among the militias”, said Mr Landis. “All other militias began to cow down or genuflect Al Nusra.”

And as Free Syrian Army fighters became disillusioned with their units’ inability to gain ground against the regime, Jabhat Al Nusra attracted more and more recruits.

In a report released by the Washington-based Atlantic Council on Tuesday, analyst Faysal Itani said that the US-led air campaign against ISIL had led to a “near-collapse” of moderate, nationalist rebel forces by allowing Jabhat Al Nusra’s expansion.

Rebel successes spearheaded by the Al Qaeda affiliate is likely to irk the US, which is still seeking to arm and train more moderate rebel units that could be used to fight ISIL. But in an environment where extremist forces are dominant and actively fighting the regime, a US-backed force mandated only to fight ISIL could be viewed negatively on the ground.

“These fighters are more likely to be seen as American mercenaries than champions of the Syrian people,” Mr Itani said in the Atlantic Council report.

Ms Khatib said there is still hope for moderate rebel factions if they get the support they need.

“If the west empowers moderate rebels enough, this might attract back a significant number of fighters who had left and this will change the composition of Jabhat Al Nusra,” she said.

But, she noted, Jabhat Al Nusra is well aware of powers vying for influence and has worked to counter that by adopting a softer approach and entering into power sharing agreements with rebel units.

So far, it has not imposed Islamic governance on captured areas.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

UAE v West Indies

First ODI - Sunday, June 4
Second ODI - Tuesday, June 6
Third ODI - Friday, June 9

Matches at Sharjah Cricket Stadium. All games start at 4.30pm

UAE squad
Muhammad Waseem (captain), Aayan Khan, Adithya Shetty, Ali Naseer, Ansh Tandon, Aryansh Sharma, Asif Khan, Basil Hameed, Ethan D’Souza, Fahad Nawaz, Jonathan Figy, Junaid Siddique, Karthik Meiyappan, Lovepreet Singh, Matiullah, Mohammed Faraazuddin, Muhammad Jawadullah, Rameez Shahzad, Rohan Mustafa, Sanchit Sharma, Vriitya Aravind, Zahoor Khan

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

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

My Country: A Syrian Memoir

Kassem Eid, Bloomsbury

The Boy and the Heron

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Starring: Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Ko Shibasaki

Rating: 5/5

Fifa Club World Cup quarter-final

Kashima Antlers 3 (Nagaki 49’, Serginho 69’, Abe 84’)
Guadalajara 2 (Zaldivar 03’, Pulido 90')

THE SPECS

Engine: Four-cylinder 2.5-litre

Transmission: Seven-speed auto

Power: 165hp

Torque: 241Nm

Price: Dh99,900 to Dh134,000

On sale: now

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

The specs: 2018 Peugeot 5008

Price, base / as tested: Dh99,900 / Dh134,900

Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Power: 165hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque: 240Nm @ 1,400rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 5.8L / 100km

UAE'S YOUNG GUNS

1 Esha Oza, age 26, 79 matches

2 Theertha Satish, age 20, 66 matches

3 Khushi Sharma, age 21, 65 matches

4 Kavisha Kumari, age 21, 79 matches

5 Heena Hotchandani, age 23, 16 matches

6 Rinitha Rajith, age 18, 34 matches

7 Samaira Dharnidharka, age 17, 53 matches

8 Vaishnave Mahesh, age 17, 68 matches

9 Lavanya Keny, age 17, 33 matches

10 Siya Gokhale, age 18, 33 matches

11 Indhuja Nandakumar, age 18, 46 matches

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

Match info

Arsenal 0

Manchester City 2
Sterling (14'), Bernardo Silva (64')

German plea

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the German parliament that. Russia had erected a new wall across Europe.

"It's not a Berlin Wall -- it is a Wall in central Europe between freedom and bondage and this Wall is growing bigger with every bomb" dropped on Ukraine, Zelenskyy told MPs.

Mr Zelenskyy was applauded by MPs in the Bundestag as he addressed Chancellor Olaf Scholz directly.

"Dear Mr Scholz, tear down this Wall," he said, evoking US President Ronald Reagan's 1987 appeal to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

THE SWIMMERS

Director: Sally El-Hosaini

Stars: Nathalie Issa, Manal Issa, Ahmed Malek and Ali Suliman 

Rating: 4/5

End of free parking

- paid-for parking will be rolled across Abu Dhabi island on August 18

- drivers will have three working weeks leeway before fines are issued

- areas that are currently free to park - around Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Maqta Bridge, Mussaffah Bridge and the Corniche - will now require a ticket

- villa residents will need a permit to park outside their home. One vehicle is Dh800 and a second is Dh1,200. 

- The penalty for failing to pay for a ticket after 10 minutes will be Dh200

- Parking on a patch of sand will incur a fine of Dh300

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★

65

Directors: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

Stars: Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman

Rating: 2/5