The implications of Salim Idriss’s dismissal remain unclear on the battle ground, amid mutual accusations of treason between rebel commanders divided between supporters and opponents of the ousted Syria’s opposition Supreme Military Council (SMC) leader.
“Idriss to end his visit to Dubai and return to Turkey," wrote journalist and cyber activist, Zaid Benjamin on his Twitter account, citing sources, adding that five rebel commanders still consider Idriss the SMC leader.
The SMC announced Sunday in video statement that Idriss had been removed from his post, replaced by Brigadier Abdullah al-Bashir.
Idriss has led the main Syrian armed opposition group since December 2012 after defecting from Assad’s army, in which he held the position of General.
A source told Zaman al-Wasl that the Interim Defence Minister, who retracted his resignation from the opposition interim government due to Turkish and American pressure, was behind Idriss's dismissal.
Asaad Mustafa’s disputes with Idriss have escalated over the leadership and funding of rebel groups on the ground, especially the moderate forces operating under the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The source confirmed that Idriss's ousting was the main outcome of Mustafa’s closed meeting with Turkish and American intelligence, which took place in the Turkish border city of Gaziantep in the early hours of Saturday.
In December, Mustafa said that Idriss "has failed to make an institution," according to the London-based Daily Telegraph. "I don't think everything can continue in the same way."
The new SMC leader is head of the Quineitra Military Council, which has been prominent in leading a current insurgent offensive in southern Syria. His deputy, Colonel Heitham Afeisi, is a leading member of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front.
Meanwhile, a well-informed source reported that Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Aqidi will be "a man for the next phase' and the top military figure for the opposition in the coming period, according to European and Saudi wishes in particular.
Aqidi has a good reputation within the armed opposition and Islamic parties, besides his military experience on the ground, some activists said.
Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide rebels there with more sophisticated weaponry, including shoulder-fired missiles that can take down jets, according to Western and Arab diplomats and opposition figures, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Saudi Arabia has also offered to give the opposition Chinese man-portable air defence systems, or Manpads, and antitank guided missiles from Russia, for the first time, according to an Arab diplomat and several opposition figures with knowledge of the efforts. Saudi officials couldn't be reached to comment.
The U.S. has long opposed arming rebels with antiaircraft missiles for fear they could fall into the hands of extremists who might use them against the West or commercial airlines. The Saudis have held off supplying them in the past because of U.S. opposition. A senior Obama administration official said Friday that the U.S. objection remains the same. "There hasn't been a change internally on our view," the official said.
The U.S. for its part has stepped up financial support, handing over millions of dollars in new aid to pay fighters' salaries, said rebel commanders who received some of the money. The U.S. wouldn't comment on any payments.
The focus of the new rebel military push is to retake the southern suburbs of Damascus in hopes of forcing the regime to accept a political solution by agreeing to a transitional government without President Bashar Assad.
But if the Manpads are supplied in the quantities needed, rebels said it could tip the balance in the stalemated war in favour of the opposition. The antiaircraft and Russian Konkurs antitank weapons would help them chip away at the regime's two big advantages on the battlefield—air power and heavy armor.
"New stuff is arriving imminently," said a Western diplomat with knowledge of the weapons deliveries.
Rebel commanders and leaders of the Syrian political opposition said they don't know yet how many of the Manpads and antiaircraft missiles they will get. But they have been told it is a significant amount. The weapons are already waiting in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer