Syrian rebel factions form Islamic alliance

Body calls for Sharia law and is against secular and foreign-composed opposition

Free Syrian Army fighters fire their weapons as they take cover during clashes with what activists say are government forces, in the village of Aziza, in the southern countryside of Aleppo. Photograph: Reuters

Free Syrian Army fighters fire their weapons as they take cover during clashes with what activists say are government forces, in the village of Aziza, in the southern countryside of Aleppo. Photograph: Reuters

Thu, Sep 26, 2013, 01:00

The dynamics of Syria’s war have shifted significantly with the formation of a new Islamist alliance of key rebel factions which does not recognise any foreign-based opposition group, including the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition.

Thirteen of Syria’s most powerful armed groups, including forces aligned with the Free Syrian Army, signed up to the new initiative announced late on Tuesday.

“The National Coalition and the proposed government under [recently selected] Ahmad Tomeh does not represent us, nor do we recognise it,” they said in a statement.

The alliance includes Liwa al-Tawhid, the main rebel force in the northern province of Aleppo; the Salafist group Ahrar al-Sham; and Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda-linked group designated a terrorist organisation by the UN and the US.

The break with the SNC, an umbrella organisation for opposition groups abroad, does not come as a surprise.

Rebel fighters inside Syria have long accused the SNC, largely based in Turkey, of being detached from the reality on the ground as the war grinds on, claiming more than 100,000 lives.

Some ridicule SNC members as inefficient “hotel revolutionaries”.


Opposition splintered
The new formation threatens to undermine international efforts to rally Syria’s opposition forces and steer both its political and armed elements towards negotiations with the Assad regime.

It is further evidence of how secular-leaning forces within the armed opposition, which had been courted by western powers, have lost influence to Islamist factions with wealthy private benefactors in the Gulf. The statement announcing the alliance also called for Islamic law to be applied.

“These forces call on all military and civilian groups to unite in a clear Islamic context that . . . is based on Sharia law, making it the sole source of legislation,” it said.

The statement ended with a call for “unity” and urged members “to reject division . . . putting the interest of the [Islamic] nation over the interest of each group”.


Internecine fighting
The move comes as infighting between rebel forces intensified in recent weeks, with fighters from several factions taking on another al-Qaeda affiliated group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has scores of foreigners within its ranks.

More than a dozen fighters from ISIS were killed in the northern city of Hazano, close to the border with Turkey, on Sunday.

A fragile truce agreed last week temporarily halted fighting between ISIS and an FSA-aligned brigade in the town of Azaz.

Despite their mutual affiliation with al-Qaeda, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra have also been at odds.

On Saturday, fighters from the two groups clashed in the eastern province of Hasaka, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Given such tensions, the formation of the alliance may herald a possible move against ISIS by other rebel factions bristling over the large contingent of foreigners within ISIS and its hardline tactics in communities where it has sought to gain a foothold.