CATF Reports Nov. 28, 2016, 3:48pm

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani reiterated Qatar’s firm commitment to Syria’s rebels during an interview on Saturday, November 26th. Doha, which has backed anti-Assad rebels since the early days of the civil war, has shown no signs of limiting its support despite the changing conditions on-the-ground in Aleppo and in the future administration in Washington, D.C. As the Syrian army gradually edges closer to regaining control over the strategic and symbolically important area of East Aleppo, the Qatari foreign minister insisted that the Gulf state will not end its support for the rebels even if the army is successful in retaking the northern city. In reference to a possible change in U.S. positions under President-Elect Trump, the minister said that “we (Qatar) are not going to change our position” even if “they (U.S.) want to change their minds.”  

Al-Thani’s comments directly addressed the recent change in fortunes for Syria’s rebels and their international backers. While large swaths of Eastern Aleppo still remain under rebel control, the Syrian army, fighting alongside regional Shi’ite militias, has made important advances in recent weeks and looks close to regaining control over the largely decimated eastern sections of the city. In D.C., where Syria’s more moderate factions have secured balanced support from the Obama administration, President-Elect Trump has hinted at forgoing support for rebels in favor of partnering with Moscow in the fight against ISIS. The future of Syria’s rebel groups has quickly become shrouded in uncertainty.

Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani’s comments, referenced by Syrian state news as evidence of Qatari support for terrorism, appear intended to reassure Syria’s rebels amid challenging times. Having invested heavily in rebel forces, Doha would view the loss of strategically important areas and the rise of discouragement among rebel forces as alarming trends. In addition, as rebel territory in Aleppo dwindles and signs emerge of waning international support, insurgent groups may consider alliances with jihadist groups in Syria and abroad, an issue that has already challenged the legitimacy of Doha’s efforts in Syria. Seemingly troubled by the reality on-the-ground in Aleppo and hopeful of reenergizing the rebels’ efforts, the Qatari minister insisted that the insurgents could reclaim Aleppo even if the rest of the city does fall under government control. While a commitment to ongoing support from Doha may offer temporary encouragement to Syria’s rebels, changes in Aleppo and D.C. point to more uncertainty for the future of opposition groups.

From Reuters:

"We want to have the U.S. with us, for sure, they have been our historic ally," Sheikh Mohammed said.

But if they want to change their minds, are we going to change our position? For us, in Qatar at least, we are not going to change our position. Our position is based on principles, values and on our assessment of the situation there."

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