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Tuesday, August 21, 2012 

Pawns in a game.

This piece in the New York Times from C.J. Chivers, having managed to embed himself with rebels from the Free Syrian Army just outside Aleppo, is undoubtedly a magnificent piece of journalism. It is though, shall we say, either just a little credulous or to give the absolute benefit of the doubt, decides not to explain some of the finer details about the group Chivers has joined up with. It may well be that the "Lions of Tawhid" are a mixture of recruits from different backgrounds, as is its parent, Al-Tawhid. That doesn't alter the fact though that Tawhid, or the concept of monotheism in Islam, has been used for some time now by jihadists as part of the name of their groupings. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's original formation in Iraq was called Tawhid and Jihad, while the Army of Islam in Gaza, best known for kidnapping the BBC journalist Alan Johnston, also goes by the moniker. Jihadis also often refer to themselves as lions, something it seems Chris Morris's satire Four Lions has done little to alter.

It therefore seems just a little dubious that the Lions of Tawhid are as opposed to using fighters as suicide bombers as they claimed to Chivers. In any case, why do they need to when they have a member of a shabiha militia they can use instead? Abu Hilial may well have been a shabiha, but when he'd been treated to "extensive beatings" it's likely he confessed to anything and everything, including that he'd been in prison and was released to serve as part of a militia, committing a rape and six murders. He'd been sentenced to death, but why waste a life completely when he could be used instead as a unknowing truck bomber? It's all but needless to say that using Hilial as such is about as heinous a breach of the Geneva Convention as there possibly is, and is in spite of the claims from the FSA that they were going to abide by a code of conduct. That the bomb failed to go off is neither here nor there, while the fact that the group had access to the 650lbs of explosives for it more than suggests that certain sections of the FSA have access to plenty in the way of resources, despite claims to the contrary.

Jonathan Steele's report in the Graun does go some way to telling the other side of the story: as much as the regime must shoulder 99% of the blame for their reliance on indiscriminate shelling and attacks from the air, it's little wonder that some within Syria are also now criticising the FSA for encouraging such reprisals. Strangely, unlike when Israel has launched attacks on Gaza in the past, with Hamas roundly condemned as a result for hiding behind civilians, nary a word of concern has been voiced by our own politicians against the FSA's tactics. You can hardly blame Syrian civilians then when they feel as Youssef Abdelke told Steele, like "pawns in a big game".

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