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09/13/2013

Venezuelan politician joins Syrian army, uses Twitter to document war

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Venezuelan politician Abdel el-Zabayar received permission from his government to stay in Syria and help the Assad military. (Twitter.)

Who is fighting the war in Syria?

Plenty of non-Syrians, according to some media reports that warn Islamist groups have moved into Syria from the Caucuses and elsewhere to support the Syrian opposition.

There is even a group of Canadians who are believed to have left the safety of Canada to fight in Syria, according to Toronto Star journalist Michelle Shephard, who writes more than 100 Canadians have left to join the conflict during the past year.

But Abdel el-Zabayar is surely one the most unlikely fighters on the battlefield.

While el-Zabayar's roots are Syrian, he was born in Venezuela and he now is a congressman for the country's ruling party.

El-Zabayar several weeks ago asked his political bosses in Caracas for permission to remain in Syria, after he'd visited with friends and family there. When Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gave him his blessing, "the lawmaker became a soldier," according to a report on el-Zabayar on the Website Vocativ.com.

“Thank you president and extraordinary brother @NicolasMaduro," el-Zabayar Tweeted on Sept. 3. "It’s important for the world to punish and stop the imperialist arrogance here.”
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Overnight, el-Zabayar's Twitter account became one of social media's more oddball reads. (He has about 15,000 followers, although that figure is tempered by the fact he also follows more than 14,500 others).

There is el-Zabayar posing with his comrades armed with AK-47s. There are his some anti-American diatribes, to be sure, and also some Tweets to update Maduro, the Venezuelan president.

"There are no UN resolutions prohibiting trade with Syria," el-Zabayar tweeted Friday, after posting earlier a photo of local newspaper report in Damascus about his visit to Syria's national assembly.

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El-Zabayar has also accused Turkey and Jordan of making money off the "Syrian refugee business" because he says they receive $700 per refugee per month from the U.N.

"If Obama cannot convince his wife and daughter of the attack on Syria, how can he convince the American people?" el-Zabayar tweeted on Sept. 11, also claiming online on Sept. 5 that U.S.-backed Islamists attacked a Christian village in North Syria.

El-Zabayar is not actually on the front lines with Syria's army.

He tells Vocativ that he does not have any weapons training and is looking after administrative chores.

“I am stationed near the Jordanian border, some 90 kilometers south of Damascas and around 20 kilometers from the front line,” he said, according to Vocativ. “My unit is in charge of maintaining a control point near the border, to avoid mercenaries getting into the country.”

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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