Free Syrian Army denies its commander has fled to Turkey

Photo: Free Syrian Army denies its commander has fled to Turkey / Arabic region

The Western- and Gulf-backed Free Syrian Army Supreme Military Command denied Thursday reports that its chief of staff, General Salim Idriss, had fled after Islamist groups took over his headquarters on the Turkish border, dpa reported

"We deny totally this baseless untruthful report by the Wall Street Journal," Louay al-Mokdad, the media coordinator of the FSA, told dpa by phone from Turkey.

The Wall Street Journal, quoting unnamed US government officials, reported on Wednesday that Idriss fled into Turkey after rebels from the Islamic Front took over his headquarters at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on December 6 and that he then flew to Qatar on Sunday.

"We tell everybody that General Idriss is currently at the Syrian-Turkish border and has been for the past three days, carrying out his military tasks and meeting with the different brigades including the Islamic Front," al-Mokdad said.

"We demand an immediate apology from the Wall Street Journal because they have published a baseless report without double checking with the command of the SMC," al-Mokdad added.

Idriss' location could not be independently confirmed. The SMC also posted a denial of the report on its Facebook page, but provided no photographic or video evidence as to the whereabouts of its chief of staff.

Idriss is the chief of staff of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the Free Syrian Army, which is backed by Western and Gulf states and Turkey.

Fighters loyal to the Islamic Front, a rival alliance of some of the country's largest rebel groups, on Friday took over the SMC's positions and stores at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey.

The development led the United States and Britain to announce Wednesday that they were suspending non-lethal aid to the rebels.

"We're working closely with General Idriss and the SMC staff ... to inventory the status of US equipment and supplies provided to the SMC," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said

Most rebel groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad initially identified themselves as the Free Syrian Army. B but Idriss' Supreme Military Command, established in December 2012 to channel Western and Gulf aid to moderate rebels, does not appear to have ever exercised significant operational control.

The establishment in late November of the Islamic Front underlined the growing cohesiveness of powerful Islamist rebel groups and their unwillingness to accept outside control.

It includes the largest opposition forces in the Aleppo and Damascus regions. Its members have cooperated on the ground with fighters loyal to Idriss as well as those linked to al-Qaeda.

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