Germany Backs Syrian Rebel Leader Amidst Reports of Disunity

UN Observer in Syria. Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Neeraj Singh

The Syrian opposition is appearing increasingly fractured and complicated, even as some in the West seek to publicly prop up the rebel leadership. With internal divisions already prevalent, the recent announcement that one of the major backers of the fight against the Syrian regime has aligned with Al Qaeda may not even be the biggest concern for the Syrian opposition.

Despite that, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Wednesday offered their support to the interim prime minister of the Syrian opposition, Ghassan Hitto. “We support Mr. Hitto in his efforts to create a strong and united opposition based on democratic principles,” Westerwelle said in a press statement. “…The Syrian people need to be able to see that there is a democratic alternative to the violence of the Assad regime.”

Hitto’s government, however, is one the points sparking division within the Syrian opposition. The spokesperson for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main fighting force for the rebels, told The Daily Star Lebanese newspaper that they are opposed to the transitional government.

Publicly, members of the West have dodged the reports of disunity. In addition to Germany, the US are also part of the public efforts to back Hitto. On Wednesday, US spokesperson Patrick Ventrell was quoted by the State Department as saying that “Prime Minister Hitto is somebody that we’ve worked well with in the past… what we’ve seen are positive statements [about Hitto] from FSA leadership in the past.”

Privately, however, The Daily Star reported that the West has concerns about the divisions within the opposition, plus the risk that weapons are reaching radical Islamic groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

One of those radical groups—the al-Nusra Front—only added fuel to the fire by formally aligning with al-Qaeda in Iraq. The United States had designated al-Nusra a terrorist organization last December already.

On Tuesday, Ventrell said they weren’t surprised by the al-Qaeda ties to al-Nusra. “We’ve already been doing very careful vetting and everything we can to keep any of our assistance away from these extremists,” Ventrell was quoted by the State Department as saying. “So we already designated them and it doesn’t change that. It just lays bare what we already knew, that these groups are, in fact, one indeed the same.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister, in his comments with rebel interim Prime Minister Hitto, was careful to note their support for the “moderate” rebels. Noting they are working to find ways to force the Assad regime to negotiate, Westerwelle said, “That is why we are supporting the interim institutions of the moderate Syrian opposition and its goal of providing the population in the areas under its control with the most urgently needed supplies.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, April 11, 2013)