Qatar Attempting to Re-establish Influence in Northern Syria

The Cradle
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Qatar is reportedly offering significant financial support to a number of extremist groups as part of this latest initiative

According to a media report on 28 July, Qatar is currently involved in an effort to re-establish direct ties with armed opposition groups in Syria, in what has been seen as an attempt to regain its influence in the north of the country.

The Qatari initiative follows a Turkish attempt several months ago to restructure opposition forces in northern Syria and create a unified coalition of armed factions.

Despite recent tensions between Doha and Ankara over influence in opposition-held territory in Syria, namely Turkey’s attempt to limit Muslim Brotherhood (MB) elements within the Syrian opposition, the Al-Akhbar report suggests Turkey may welcome the Qatari initiative, as it could potentially ease its financial burden in the north of the country.

Due to this financial burden, Ankara has cut funding and held back the salaries it pays to a number of Syrian opposition factions, including Ahrar Al-Sham and the Third Division armed groups, a move which Qatar reportedly wishes to exploit.

Tensions between the Ahrar Al-Sham and Third Division extremist groups have recently led to heavy clashes between the two factions.

Sources told Al-Akhbar that in an attempt to improve relations between the two groups, a Qatari delegation recently held meetings to mediate and help resolve the conflict between both factions.

Al-Akhbar sources added that Qatar has offered significant financial aid in exchange, guaranteeing that around 30,000 fighters will continue to receive salaries without delay or interruption.

The GCC country has been an active player in the Syrian conflict since 2011 and, alongside several other international and Gulf states, played an integral role in kickstarting the war.

In 2011, Qatar was involved in instigating defections from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), reportedly offering up to $50,000 in cash to soldiers and their families as a bribe to breakaway from the state and join the opposition.

The Gulf country also provided significant funding to Jabhat Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, which cut ties with Al-Qaeda in 2016 in an effort to rebrand itself, and is now known Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).

In March this year, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Bashar Al-Jaafari, said that one of the several reasons for the war on Syria was Qatar’s interest in becoming Europe’s main natural gas supplier.

“One of the reasons for the war on Syria was the refusal [by Damascus] to extend the Qatari gas pipeline to Europe via Turkey to thwart the Russian pipeline,” the deputy foreign minister said at the time.

Earlier this year, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said during an interview that his country’s normalization with Syria is impossible, despite efforts by other Arab states to reintegrate Damascus into the regional fold.

The comments of the Qatari foreign minister suggest that Doha may still be counting on the illegal overthrow of the Syrian government.