JAFFA, Israel – Fierce fighting has been taking place in the Alghouta region near Damascus for several weeks, but the parties are rebel groups fighting each other.
The Army of Islam, a rebel militia whose leader Islam Alush participated in the Geneva peace talks, has been fighting the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and other associated militias.
The conflict started after the Army of Islam was accused of using the tunnel of another rebel militia, Dawn of the Nation, to smuggle $3 million in cash. Dawn of the Nation later claimed it had not received compensation for its assistance, which led to an armed conflict over the loot and control of the tunnels, encompassing other militias as well.
The tunnels have been a major source of income in Syria’s warzones, as virtually all commerce depends on smuggling.
An undated video has been making the rounds on Facebook over the last few days purporting to show former Army of Islam commander Zahran Alush fighting with other rebels about the “bags of dollars smuggled through the tunnel.”
In the video, the rebels can be heard accusing Alush of stealing the $12 million that the local residents were expecting.
“You call yourself the governor of Alghouta, so where’s the money you brought over?” they asked him.
Alush can be heard replying that the money’s destination was elsewhere, and that “not a single Frank was meant for Alghouta.” He also accused one of his rivals of pocketing millions of dollars.
Alush’s successor, Islam Alush, is a distinguished member of the delegation of the Syrian opposition to the Geneva peace talks. He was included in the international conversations following American pressure despite the protests of the Syrian government.
During the fighting, hundreds of gunmen on both sides were killed, and mediation efforts by Saudi and Qatari Islamic clerics, as well as Turkey, have proved futile.
The Syrian army has exploited the divisions among the opposition groups and made significant gains in the rural areas surrounding Damascus, which it had lost as early as the first months of the civil war.
The tunnel system and its control by rebel groups have led to price hikes in the besieged government-ruled areas. The tunnels have become the the primary method of transport for money, fighters, weapons, and food.
Despite calls for a ceasefire that rely on the fact that the infighting benefits the regime, the warring parties have continued to kill each other and blame each other for the conflict and the regime’s recent gains south of Damascus.
Over the last few days, local dignitaries and organizations submitted a 10-point peace plan to the sides, to no avail.