09/27/2013, 00.00
SYRIA - UNITED NATIONS

As jihadist rebels burn two Catholic churches in ar-Raqqah, Assad's enemies openly split

Fundamentalists target the Greek Catholic Church of the Annunciation and the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs, destroying the cross on the bell tower of one of them and raising the Islamist flag, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights laments. As divisions grow within the anti-Assad opposition, fundamentalist groups reject the authority of the Syrian National Council, trying instead to impose Sharia. The Security Council is ready to adopt a resolution on the destruction of Assad's chemical weapons with the support of Russia and the United States.

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Jihadist rebels linked to al-Qaeda burnt statues and crosses in two churches in ar-Raqqah, northern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, often favourable to the rebels, reports that yesterday fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant entered Our Lady of the Annunciation Greek Catholic Church where they destroyed icons and furniture. They did the same at the Holy Martyrs Armenian Catholic Church where they destroyed the cross on the clock tower and replaced it with their al-Qaeda flag.

Ar-Raqqah and its province, which are on the banks of the Euphrates River, fell into rebel hands in March. From the beginning, anti-Assad fundamentalists waged a struggle against their opponents within the Free Syrian Army.

In the city, Islamist fighters imposed on residents a strict observance of Islamic law (Sharia). They also went on a rampage, destroying Shiite mosques and Christian churches, as well as carried out summary executions against Alawis, and are suspected in the kidnapping of priests and bishops.

The London-based Observatory denounced these attacks "against the freedom of religion, which are an assault on the Syrian revolution."

In fact, because of jihadist violence, many Assad opponents have abandoned their groups and became regime supporters.

At the beginning of the anti-Assad revolt, rebels were happy to see fundamentalist groups from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Chechnya, Indonesia, Qatar, and Egypt join their ranks. But this did not last long as a chasm between secular and Islamist factions developed.

Yesterday, 11 Islamist rebel groups issued a statement in which they said that they did not recognise the authority of the Syrian National Coalition, an Istanbul-based alliance of opponents to the Syrian regime.

One the reasons that led them to this decision is their opposition to external controls on the Syrian revolution; but above all is their desire to Islamise fully the struggle against Assad.

In view of this, the statement called on "all military and civilian forces to unite under a clear Islamic framework based on Sharia [Islamic law], which should be the sole source of legislation".

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council in New York has agreed on a draft resolution that would require Syria to turn over its chemical weapons for destruction, with the backing Russia and China, great supporters of Assad. A vote is expected tonight.

The proposal cites Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorises the use of force, but does not allow for an automatic decision. For the use of force, in case weapons are not turned over for destruction, a new resolution would be needed (in accordance with Russia's wishes).

The text condemns the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but does not accuse either of the two warring parties, both of which are suspected of having used it.

It says that those responsible can be prosecuted, but does not cite the International Criminal Court.

The resolution also does not clarify how, where and to whom Syria must deliver tonnes of gas it has. It does not specify what procedures must be followed to verify that chemical weapons have been effectively handed over.

In any case, for the United States the text is seen as a good step. Equally, Russia has acknowledge that an agreement has been reached.

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