SNC Head: IS more of a threat to Muslims than Christians

Syrians and Iraqis are trapped between dictatorship and terrorism, with no third moderate option to ensure freedom. The international community stands in confusion: It was able to stop the Islamic State’s (IS) expansion in Iraq, but the group was determined to stay in Syria and took control of the regime’s remaining strongholds in Raqqa, which made it necessary to launch airstrikes targeting IS sites in both countries.

Muslims are the most affected

Everyone fears the danger that IS represents for minorities, especially after the Yazidis in Iraq and several tribes were forced to leave their homes; in addition, the Christians were forced to choose between converting to Islam, paying a jizya [tax] or being killed.

However, the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, George Sabra, thinks that “the fear that IS creates affects Muslims more than Christians. The proof is that the Sunni Muslims in Raqqa were the first to face IS and the first to become its victims.”

Destruction of churches and mosques

Sabra believes that “stability in Iraq and Syria, for Christians, Muslims and all the region’s residents, regardless of their beliefs, can be achieved through eliminating extremism, terrorism and despotism, in addition to opening the doors for the people’s will to establish a democratic civil government.” Sabra has been following the events in Syria since the very beginning and said, “The Syrian revolution never threatened Christians or any other religion.” He did not hide the fact that “due to certain mistakes and random shelling, some churches were destroyed. However, more than 2,000 mosques were completely destroyed.”

‘Reassured concerning Mhardeh’

On the subject of the concerns about the Christians’ fate in Mhardeh, north of Hama, in the event that Jabhat al-Nusra invades, Sabra said, “The regime used Mhardeh as a stronghold for its artillery that was firing on all Hama’s liberated northern and western regions. Some residents were recruited by what is known as the National Defense Army, while the Free Syrian Army advised and gave opportunities to residents to make the armed group — which is shelling the region from within its territories — leave.” Sabra emphasized the need to “tame the fires that are taking the lives of the citizens,” stressing the necessity of “maintaining communication with the revolutionary brigades, who are well aware of their mission.”

He angrily added, “The Christians in Mhardeh will not be affected by this mission, because this would affect the Syrian revolution on both moral and humanitarian levels.”

When asked about Jabhat al-Nusra’s attack, Sabra answered, “We think that al-Nusra’s behavior with the nuns of Maaloula, and the fact that the head of the monastery repeatedly spoke about the way they were treated, reassures the region about the possible behavior of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Army with the citizens of Mhardeh and its neighboring regions.”

The Islamic State and the regime

When speaking of the danger represented by IS, some believe that if dictatorship is not eliminated, there is no point in eliminating terrorism, especially since the second is inevitably the result of the first. It is important to eliminate a disease from its roots instead of simply cutting the branches off. Sabra agrees with this logic and believes that “terrorism cannot be divided.” He explained, “IS, which is spread across the Syrian and Iraqi lands, is one entity. It will not be logical for its presence in Iraq, and not Syria, to be a danger for the region, especially since the Syrians endured its danger first.”

On the subject of “terrorism is one,” Sabra believes that “the terrorism of the regime and its allies, in addition to the security, sectarian and military reinforcements it recruited from Lebanon and Iraq, represent a pressure on the Syrians’ lives, inciting violence, extremism and instability in the region.”

Source of terrorism

The Syrian opposition does not want the US role to be limited to fighting IS but to also include the Syrian regime, because, according to Sabra, “It is well known that the Syrian regime and the Iranian intelligence services have significantly contributed in establishing the Islamic State’s plan and supporting it.” He said, “Two years ago, IS occupied Raqqa and it is still present in the province’s headquarters. When the regime’s aircraft shell the schools and hospitals, they keep away from the headquarters. IS also used its military and terrorist expertise against the Syrians and the Free Syrian Army, but there were never any significant clashes with [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad’s forces.”

The Syrian opposition addressed a letter to the US administration stating that Syrians are waiting to truly fight terrorism, and that it cannot be done unless the head of terrorism is eliminated, which is the Syrian regime.

Prolonging the regime’s lifespan

As soon as there were talks about US strikes against Syria, the Syrian regime immediately claimed innocence, took advantage of any international resolution to legalize prolonging its life span and announced that any strike targeting IS can only be done with the government’s approval.

In this context, Sabra said, “This is a weak and desperate attempt by the regime in hopes of restoring its image within the international community and demanding to prolong its mandate because it is starting to sense that it has reached its expiration date. It is also starting to sense that all the services it provided the Israelis, Iranians and Americans have faded, and it is now trying to renew the international schemes plan in the region.” However, the opposition is betting on the international community’s consciousness and knowledge concerning the fact that “Assad and his regime were only established through violence and terrorism.”

Sabra commented on the statements of Foreign Minister Walid Moallem. “The regime contradicts itself when it announces that it is protecting the country’s sovereignty, while it was the one destroying it by recruiting sectarian forces such as Hezbollah, which crossed the Lebanese borders into Syria.”

‘We do not have a role in solving the Arsal issue’

On the subject of Arsal and the captive soldiers, Sabra said, “The Syrian opposition has always been against border incursions from both sides. We wanted the Lebanese army to protect the borders and prevent any armed group from both countries from coming through.” He added, “Armed groups crossed the borders from Lebanon into Syria and became an occupation force there. At the same time, we do not want anyone to assault the Lebanese army, but we were protecting our own people and they were occupied by Hezbollah and their blood was shed.”

The Syrian political opposition did not act on the issue of the Lebanese prisoners. According to Sabra, “It was not officially asked to play a role. However, we are making sure to maintain communication with the brigades’ leaders, to prevent the situation from getting worse.”

Read more: