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ISTANBUL---Casting aside US
concerns about aiding extremist
groups, Turkey and Saudi Arabia
have converged on an aggressive
new strategy to bring down Syrian
President Bashar Assad.
The two countries---one a
democracy, the other a conservative
kingdom---have for years been at
odds over how to deal with Assad,
their common enemy.
But mutual frustration with what
they consider American indecision
has brought the two together in a
strategic alliance that is driving
recent rebel gains in northern Syria,
and has helped strengthen a new
coalition of anti-Assad insurgents,
Turkish officials say.
That is provoking concern in the
United States, which does not want
rebel groups, including the al-
Qaeda linked Nusra Front, uniting
to topple Assad.
The Obama administration wor-
ries that the revived rebel alliance
could potentially put a more dan-
gerous radical Islamist regime in
Assad s place, just as the US is
focused on bringing down the
Islamic State group.
A US official said the adminis-
tration is concerned that the new
alliance is helping Nusra gain ter-
ritory in Syria.
The co-ordination between
Turkey and Saudi Arabia reflects
renewed urgency and impatience
with the Obama administration s
policy in the region. Saudi Arabia
previously kept its distance and
funding from some anti-Assad
Islamist groups at Washington s
urging, according to Turkish offi-
Saudi Arabia and Turkey also dif-
fered about the role of the inter-
national Islamist group, the Muslim
Brotherhood, in the Syrian oppo-
sition. Turkey supports the group,
while the Saudi monarchy considers
it a threat to its rule at home; that
has translated into differences on
the ground---until recently.
"The key is that the Saudis are
no longer working against the
opposition," a Turkish official said.
Turkish officials say the Obama
administration has disengaged from
Syria as it focuses on rapproche-
ment with Iran. While the US
administration is focused on
degrading the Islamic State group
in Syria and Iraq, they say it has
no coherent strategy for ending the
rule of Assad, Iran s key ally in the
The new Turkish and Saudi push
suggests that they view Assad as
a bigger threat to the region than
groups like Nusra.
Turkish officials discount the
possibility that Nusra will ever be
in a position to hold sway over
much of Syria.
Under Turkish and Saudi patron-
age, the rebel advance has under-
mined a sense that the Assad gov-
ernment is winning the civil
war---and demonstrated how the
new alliance can yield immediate
The pact was sealed in early
March when Turkish President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to
Riyadh to meet Saudi s recently-
crowned King Salman. Relations
had been tense between Erdogan
and the late King Abdullah, in great
part over Erdogan s support of the
The Saudi shift appears to be
part of broader proxy war against
Iran that includes Saudi-led
airstrikes in Yemen against Iran-
backed Houthi rebels. The new
partnership adds Saudi money to
Turkey s logistical support.
At the end of March, the
alliance---calling itself "Conquest
Army"---took the city of Idlib, fol-
lowed by the strategic town of Jisr
al-Shughour and then a govern-
ment military base.
"They have really learned to fight
together," the Turkish official said.
Turkey, Saudi in pact
to bring down Assad
Ghazal, 4, and Judy, 7, carrying eight-month-old Suhair, react after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal
to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad near the Syrian Arab Red Crescent centre in the Douma neighbourhood of
Damascus, Wednesday. The shelling happened during the visit by a Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy to deliver
medical aid to their centre in Douma, activists said. REUTERS PHOTOS
A man drives his motorcycle as he wears a gas masks after what activists said was a chlorine gas attack on
Kansafra village at Idlib countryside, Syria yesterday.
The co-ordination between
Turkey and Saudi Arabia
reflects renewed urgency
and impatience with the
policy in the region. Saudi
Arabia previously kept its
distance and funding from
some anti-Assad Islamist
groups at Washington's
urging, according to
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