Turkey backing two rebel governments in Syria - Haaretz

Turkey’s support for two rival opposition groups in Syria, the Syrian Interim Government recognised by international institutions as representing the opposition, and the Islamist Syrian Salvation Government in Idlib province shows Ankara’s ambitions to shape Syria’s future, said analyst Zvi Bar’el in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Friday.

Turkey has been supporting Syrian rebel groups against the Damascus government since the start of the civil war in 2011, while it sees preventing the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish-controlled government in northern Syria as a priority for its national security. 

The Interim Government established back in 2013 is headquartered in Turkey, from where it manages the affairs of what it calls the liberated territories inside Syria, Bar’el said. The group aims to establish a liberal, democratic Syrian government that represents members of all faiths and ethnic groups, and in order to do so it is participating in talks over a new constitution with the representatives of the Damascus government in Geneva.

Meanwhile, The Salvation Government in the northern province of Idlib is administered by Tahrir al-Sham, formerly the radical Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra, an offshoot of al Qaeda. It wants Syria to become a theocracy with its laws based on the principles of Islam.

The existence of a rival administrative body in Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria, curbs the Turkey-based Interim Government’s efforts to depict itself as the sole representative of all opposition movements, Bar’el said. 

The analyst said these groups differed, not only in their ideology and principles, but also had been struggling for political and economic control. “The interesting thing is that both these bodies support Turkey,” he said. 

The government in Idlib enjoys freedom of movement into and out of Turkey and it appears that some of the militias that make up this government are receiving financial aid from Turkey and Qatar, the analyst said. 

“Though in an agreement with Russia, Turkey has committed itself to removing heavy weaponry from the hands of rebels living in Idlib, it is also committed to maintaining good relations with the Idlib government that is ensuring Turkey an important stronghold of influence in the country, and a means by which it hopes to shape a political solution in Syria,” Bar’el said. 

Turkey also has a strong foothold in northern Syria through more than 30 Syrian rebel groups that it has branded as the Syrian National Army (SNA), which fights alongside with the Turkish military in operations in Syria. 

“The National Army, with generous funding from Turkey, is subordinate both to Turkey and the Interim Government and it is commanded by the defence minister of that government, General Salim Idris,” Bar’el said.