Mustafa al-Sheikh, head of the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) military council, expects the embattled regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad regime will not last more than another four months and stressed the unity of the armed opposition inside Syria.
“Four months is the maximum time if we take into account the irreversible damages inflicted upon the state army and the deteriorating morale of its officers,” he told Al Arabiya.
“[Toppling the regime] can even take two months,” he added.
Sheikh explained that the FSA, the main armed opposition fighter group in Syria, is becoming more powerful and scoring more victories especially with the state army incapable of operating inside Syrian cities.
“The regime’s army can only attack with warplanes and tanks, but it is now very difficult for ground forces or police patrols to walk around inside the cities with the exception of Damascus,” he said.
Sheikh denied allegations that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is not united and said that it is only opposition abroad that is divided owing to difference in political views and the role played by external agendas.
“This does not reflect on the domestic scene in Syria. FSA brigades might have different names, but they are all part on one entity and we are all united and our unity is becoming much stronger now that a year and a half passed since the revolution has started.”
Sheikh admitted that the there have been attempts on the part of the Syrian regime to divide FSA officers on sectarian basis.
“This was the most dangerous challenge, but senior officers made sure not to give the regime this chance.”
Regarding foreign countries that might intervene to disrupt the unity of the FSA, Sheikh said he preferred not to embarrass any specific Arab or international party.
“But the Syrian revolution has for long been abandoned by the international community which took no action on the political or military levels and this contributed to the weakening of the revolution,” he said.
Sheikh admitted that receiving external support would require the FSA to become an organized institutional body in order to make sure any weapons provided by foreign entities will not fall into the wrong hands.
“The institutionalization of the FSA is made possible by the defection of more senior officers in the state army and there have been efforts from other countries like France, Turkey, and Gulf nations to support this step which is bound to happen sooner or later.”
Sheikh expected the official unification of the FSA to be declared within 10 days.
In an attempt to evaluate the Syrian revolution 18 months after its start, Sheikh said that so far the majority of world powers support the demands of the Syrian people with the exception of Iran and Russia.
“The Russian and Iranian stances look very odd in the midst of the all the support the revolution is getting. Unfortunately, the struggle for power in the Middle East has cost the Syrian people a lot,” he said.
Sheikh held Russia, in particular, accountable for the Syrian regime’s ability to spill the blood of its people.
“It would have been over a while ago had it not been for Russian support of the regime,” he said.
Russia, he added, helped the regime to militarize the revolution which had started purely as a civilian uprising.
Concerning the deteriorating conditions of Syrian refugees, Sheikh found it unlikely that a U.N.-backed safe zone would be established inside Syrian territories.
“The FSA is doing its best to protect the refugees in the areas under its control,” he said.
Sheikh also criticized the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group, for not offering the necessary support for Syrian refugees.
“The SNC should work on Syrian soil and not from Istanbul,” he added.
Meanwhile, a blast rocked the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday killing 17 people and wounding 40, the official Syrian state news agency reported.
The agency said the explosion occurred near a hospital and a school, which residents said was being used to house soldiers fighting an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Earlier on Sunday, airplanes bombed residential districts of the city, killing and wounding dozens of people, opposition activists said.
They said the air raid destroyed a residential building in the Hananu neighborhood, one of several in eastern Aleppo under insurgent control. The death toll was not immediately clear but bodies and wounded people were being dug out from the rubble.
Video footage from the area, taken by activists in the almost 18-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, showed scores of people searching and digging in the rubble of a flattened building.
Several houses were destroyed in the shelling of the northern city’s Midan district, which is under regime control, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Fierce battles broke out on the edge of Midan on Saturday, after rebels tried to take over the district from their stronghold in Bustan al-Basha.
A main water pipe in Bustan al-Basha was destroyed, either by air strikes or the fighting, and water shortages were reported by residents in Aleppo.
In the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, the army shelled the neighborhood of Jubaila, while two people were killed at a checkpoint in Hamdaniyeh district and a third was shot dead by a sniper in Jura.
Shelling attacks were also reported in the northwestern province of Idlib and in the southern province of Daraa, but there were no reports of casualties thus far, the Observatory said.
The violence followed a bloody day in which as many as 172 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country on Saturday, including 89 in Aleppo, Al Arabiya reported citing activists at the Local Coordination Committees.