Recently, there have been signs that Saudi support for the Syrian opposition is eroding. Examples of this include Saudi Arabia's support, in 2017, for the de-escalation agreements signed under the sponsorship of the Syrian regime's main ally, Russia. Also, in November 2017, Saudis hosted a broad Syrian opposition summit in Riyadh, at which it was decided that the opposition group close to Cairo, which is not insisting that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad step down, and the opposition group close to Moscow, which is thought to toe the Russian line, would be included in the framework of the High Negotiations Committee (NHC) which is the body that is seen to represent the entire Syrian opposition in political negotiations.
It should be noted that in advance of this opposition summit, Ahmad Al-Jami'a, in his column in the Saudi establishment daily Al-Riyadh, called on the various groups in the Syrian opposition to unite and accept that Russia will lead the efforts toward a solution to the Syrian crisis and also to accept that Assad will remain in power until the end of his term in 2021. He wrote that the opposition "will not survive as an entity unless it comes to terms with reality, if only temporarily."
It may be that the erosion in the Saudi position is also reflected in a cartoon published February 11, 2018 in the Saudi Al-Riyadh daily that expresses criticism of both the Syrian regime and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), depicting them firing on each other, while the citizens absorb the shelling. Supporters of the Syrian opposition responded furiously on social media at the opposition's being equated with the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, Michel Kilo, a member of the Syrian opposition, wrote an article published February 10, 2018 in the London-based Al-Arabi Al-Jadid daily; in it he too came out against the Syrian opposition for shelling innocent civilians in Damascus, writing that this is not in the interest of the revolution of the Syrian people.
Both the article and the cartoon were published against the backdrop of numerous reports of escalated Syrian regime activity around eastern Ghouta, even though this is one of the areas designated for de-escalation as agreed in Astana in September 2017. Opposition elements even accused the Syrian regime of using chemical weapons against the residents of Ghouta. Further, there were media reports that this escalation was met with shelling of Damascus by the Syrian opposition, and that as a result of the escalation in fighting on both sides, numerous civilians were killed or wounded.
FSA factions active in eastern Ghouta denied that the FSA was responsible for the shelling of Damascus, and accused the Syrian regime of deliberately firing in the direction of Damascus and then placing the blame on the FSA so as to depict it as a terrorist organization that harms civilians.
This report reviews the responses from the Syrian opposition to the cartoon in the Saudi daily, and the article by Michel Kilo.
The Al-Riyadh cartoon, headed "Clashes Have Re-erupted," shows a tank of the "Free [Syrian] Army" and a tank of the "Syrian Regime" both firing at "civilians" (Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 11, 2018)
Opposition Activists On Twitter: FSA Protects Citizens; Al-Riyadh Deliberately Distorts Reality
Twitter users in Syria who support the FSA were furious about the Saudi cartoon. Syrian journalist Baraa Abdul Al-Rahman, who resides in eastern Ghouta, tweeted the following in response to the cartoon: "Eight years of siege, murder and expulsion by Iran, Bashar [Al-Assad], Russia and the Iraqi, Lebanese, Pakistani, and other Shi'ite militias that bombard us with chemical weapons and barrel [bombs]... and then a newspaper from a Muslim Arab country publishes a cartoon that equates the victim with the hangman and equates the side that is defending its honor with the occupier..."
Bara Abdul Al-Rahman's tweet (Twitter.com/Baraa_Abdul, February 12, 2018)
Fuad Abo Hatab, who is affiliated with the Syrian opposition, also spoke out against the comparison in the cartoon. He tweeted: "The cartoon is a distortion of the facts, and a deception, because it equates the victim with the criminal... All that was missing was for you to draw planes being flown by the FSA. In the past four days, the killing of 280 civilians has been documented in eastern Ghuota, which is besieged [by the Syrian regime]."
Fuad Abo Hata's tweet (twitter.com/FUADABOHATAB, February 12, 2018).
Syrian activist Wael 'Abd Al-'Aziz tweeted: "The Free Syrian Army was originally founded to protect the civilians from the war of annihilation declared by the [Syrian] regime and its allies Russia and Iran. The insult to the symbol of the Syrian revolution's resistance, along with the massacres carried out against it, stress that the silence of the Arab countries in light of the mass murder [perpetrated] against us is no coincidence."
'Abd Al-'Aziz also tweeted an amended version of the cartoon, titled "Russia's, Iran's, and the [Assad] Regime's War against the Syrian People," showing Russia, Iran and the regime bombing civilians, but no harm to civilians being done by the opposition.
Wael 'Abd Al-'Aziz's tweet of amended cartoon, showing only the tank belonging to Russia, Iran and the "Syrian regime" bombing "civilians" (twitter.com/waelwanne, February 11, 2018)
Syrian journalist Moussa Al-'Omar tweeted: "Oh God and all creation, I swear that the Syrian rebels never bombed a mosque, never destroyed a single home, and never killed a single civilian, [while] the criminal Bashar [Al-Assad], Iran, and Russia have laid waste to our land, razed our mosques, and murdered our sons. Whoever drew this shameful picture in Al-Riyadh knows [the truth] but is distorting [it]."
Syrian poet Anis Al-Dogheim, who is identified with the opposition, called the Al-Riyadh staff "agents," and added: "How mendacious and shameless you are. The FSA has never fought even the factions that claim to belong to the [Syrian] revolution that attacked it, so as not to spill blood. So how can it be bombing civilians, when it was established to protect them?..."
Syrian Oppositionist: The Bombing Of Damascus Doesn't Serve The Syrian Revolution
Conversely, oppositiost Michel Kilo published an article in which he acknowledged that the Syrian opposition factions were firing on civilians, even unintentionally, and called on them to stop doing so. He wrote: "I am not among those who define a man according to his religion, but with those who define him according to his homeland. Accordingly, the death of any Syrian saddens me, [whether he was killed] by a shell that destroyed his home launched from an airplane belonging to the criminal regime that attacks civilians anywhere on the coast, mountains, plains, and deserts of Syria, [or if he was killed] by a mortar that was launched by a fighter of the [Syrian] opposition in order to defend the civilians. Despite the difference between the two types of deaths – the first was intentional and the second most likely wasn't – death is death, and those killed are Syrians who rose up in order to regain their freedom and rights, to save their lives, and to escape the hell of tyranny...
"The deaths of innocent civilians in Ghouta and Damascus complement each other. The deaths of those killed by [Assad's planes] complement the deaths of those killed by the [opposition's] mortars that went astray, or that [were indeed] aimed at the city's neighborhoods because those firing them thought that they were taking vengeance against the criminal regime... The regime is harvesting hundreds of civilians every day, in all ways of killing and destruction, in order to achieve several goals, the most important of which is to get rid of the civilians and provoke the resistance [i.e. opposition] fighters to respond by bombing the residents of the areas under [the regime's] control, for this will distance [these residents] from the revolution. [It will also] help him [Assad] to excuse his crimes to the international [community] by claiming that he is attacking only 'terrorists' of the Ghouta who are shelling the homes of innocent civilians in Damascus... [But] does the shelling of Damascus [really] serve the victory [of the revolution] or please the residents of Ghouta?...
"[We say] no to the killing of any innocent Syrian citizen by the national opposition, or to the shelling of their schools, homes and shops; no to the obscuring of the difference between the free revolution and the criminal and murderous regime, and no to relinquishing on the values [of the revolution], which can bring about its defeat and loss. [We say] no to the absurdity of resistance whose vengeful motives bring it to shell innocent people... no to toying with the lives and security of innocent people, whatever their position on the revolution... Revolutionaries, stop shelling Damascus. It supports you and you are [fighting] for its sake."