'Mr Obama, it's time to keep your word and end this slaughter'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Exclusive interview: The leader of Syria's rebel forces tells Loveday Morris why the West must watch no longer

The world cannot continue to sit idly by as Syrian women and children are slaughtered, says the colonel who has positioned himself at the helm of the Free Syrian Army.

He called on the United States and Europe to create a no-fly zone that would enable rebels to establish a base for operations and provide safety for refugees.

Speaking to The Independent from an undisclosed location in the Homs Governorate, Colonel Qassim Saadeddine – who this week laid bare the rifts in the rebel forces as he denounced the leadership of the exiled Colonel Riad al-Asaad – declared the Annan peace plan "dead and buried".

In a message to the US President, Barack Obama, and the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, he said: "You said that [President] Assad must go, you said his days are numbered. Words should be matched by deeds. You cannot wait until after the American elections for action. The regime hasn't stopped the killing, hasn't stopped the shelling – you cannot stand still."

A former army colonel from the Homs town of Rastan who defected in February, Colonel Saadeddine says he is not seeking a leadership role in the organisation, but claims to speaks for all the country's regional military councils. His disdain for Colonel Asaad, giving orders safely away from the battlefield from his base in Turkey, is thinly veiled.

"The whole world knows that a true leader is one who stays with his men and fights with them on the field and is of course not outside the country's borders," he said. "I'm a leader in the field, I fight with my men. I don't like to identify myself as a leader, but in terms of decision making my opinions are the ones that are respected."

Colonel Saadeddine rounded on the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, saying he "didn't deserve to rule France" because had waited too long to show he was a man of his word and lost power, and implored Mr Obama not to do the same. "The US and Europe should move through an international coalition to establish a no-fly zone and buffer zones so that the Syrian people can get rid of their oppressors," he said, adding that this should be done "with or without" the support of the UN Security Council.

The formation of buffer zones or humanitarian corridors, most likely along the Turkish border, has long been mooted, and would give the Free Syrian Army (FSA) a geographical foothold from which to mount attacks. However, the international community remains reticent due to the inevitable involvement of "boots on the ground" and the distant prospect of any UN mandate.

The Security Council has been hamstrung by Russia and China's reticence to move against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. After meeting the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, on his first overseas trip since returning to the presidency, the Russian Premier, Vladimir Putin, yesterday rejected assertions that Moscow is propping up President Assad's government, but Moscow has made it clear that it will still block any attempts at intervention.

The fractured opposition does not help the case for those who are seeking outside assistance. The fault lines in the FSA were laid bare when Colonel Saadeddine released a video message earlier this week giving the regime a 48-hour deadline to comply with the terms of the ceasefire before it would consider itself no longer bound by the Annan plan. His ultimatum was rejected by Colonel Asaad and led to a sharp exchange of words.

The rift reflects similar tensions in the non-military opposition, where the frustration of grassroots movements with the largely exiled opposition leadership, has been building. Added to the FSA's difficulties is a limited chain of command, with numerous groups identifying themselves under the banner and a lack of co-ordination between ragtag militias and battalions.

Colonel Saadeddine claims that a clearer structure is now emerging, with 10 regional military councils to which local brigades and battalions are attached. All also have administrative branches that deal with financing, weapons supply and humanitarian aid. But the fact that senior FSA figures including Colonel Saadeddine claim to have been abiding by the ceasefire while the UN has condemned numerous breaches on both sides could indicate its limited control. However, any restraint that might have been exercised now appears to have gone.

Speaking just after his 48-hour deadline expired yesterday afternoon, Colonel Saadeddine said the massacre at Houla, was the most blatant evidence that Assad's regime had no intention of moving towards reconciliation. "They are attacking our women and children, do we just sit and let them kill them? The Annan plan, as far as we are concerned, is none of our business anymore. We can't stand still with our hands on our swords."

What next for Syria? The worst atrocities ... so far

4 February 2012

The start of the siege of Homs: as many as 1,000 civilians are killed within a month in the intense fighting.

10 May 2012

A suicide bomb kills 55 in Damascus. The West is alarmed when jihadists claim responsibility

25 May 2012

The most shocking atrocity of the conflict was the massacre of 100 people, including children, in Houla

30 May 2012

Days after the Houla massacre, rebels found 13 bodies in al-Qusair which had been shot at point-blank range

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Special Needs Support Worker

£12 - £14 per hour: Recruitment Genius: We are looking for someone to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

£15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Sewing Technician

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leader in Medical Devices is...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence