Libyan Islamist militia leader Abdulhakim Belhaj, the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, has just met with the leaders of the Free Syria Army in Istanbul, Turkey. Belhaj and his militiamen have had ties to Al-Qaeda (the current connection is debated) and is heavily backed by Qatar. He and his Islamist allies, particularly Sheikh Sallabi, are grappling with the Libyan secularists over the future of the country. Basically, Belhaj is not someone the West should be a fan of.
The Free Syria Army is mostly secular but without outside support, they will seriously consider help from Belhaj and his Islamist militiamen. It’s an alliance of convenience, but the West’s lack of support for the Free Syria Army will push them into the arms of Qatar, Belhaj and the Islamists out of necessity. And as that happens, the Islamists will benefit alongside the Free Syria Army and gain influence in its ranks.
The meeting between Belhaj and the Free Syria Army was supposed to happen in secret, but a rival militia arrested Belhaj at the airport for not having a valid passport. The Libyan interim government intervened to get him released.
According to The Telegraph, the Libyan government is offering to finance and arm the Free Syria Army and Belhaj is willing to send fighters to train its forces. It was reported on Saturday that four Libyans were arrested by the Assad regime as they crossed over from Turkey, indicating that Libyan fighters might already be trying to get in on the ground. The Free Syria Army denies rumors that “hundreds” of Libyans have already arrived.
Meanwhile, the Reform Party of Syria says that the death toll is much higher than the media estimates. It puts the number of dead at 4,492 as of November 17. These are only the confirmed deaths, so the number is probably above 5,000 now. The bloodiest area is Homs, where 1,586 were killed as of November 17, followed by Daraa with 780 and 569 in Idlib, which has been mentioned as potentially becoming Syria’s “Benghazi.” About 350 have been killed in Damascus.
The Israeli website, Debkafile, which (as I always say) is very hit-or-miss, claims that a coalition has established a joint command center in Turkey as preparations for military intervention in Syria reach an “advanced” stage. The coalition partners are Turkey, the U.S., France, Canada, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The buffer zone (called a “humanitarian corridor) will include Idlib, Rastan, Homs and Aleppo. If this is true and Aleppo is taken away from the regime, then Assad will probably fall.
Civil war in Syria is starting to look like an almost guaranteed event.