Syria's Islamist rebels join forces against Assad
12 October, 2012
BEIRUT: Powerful Syrian Islamist brigades, frustrated at the growing divisions among rebels, have joined forces in what they say is a 'liberation front' to topple Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
Mistrust and miscommunication have been a feature of the rebel campaign against Assad. Differences over leadership, tactics and sources of funding have widened the rifts between largely autonomous brigades scattered across Syria. After more than a month of secret meetings, leaders of Islamist brigades - including the Farooq Brigade that operates mainly in Homs province and the heavyweight Sukour al Sham brigade of Idlib - formed the 'Front to Liberate Syria'.
The agreement is not the first, which seeks to bring together disparate fighting groups and its Islamist emphasis has already alienated some other fighters. The growing role of the Islamist fighters and their battlefield prowess has also caused concern among Western powers as they weigh up how best to support the opposition forces arrayed against Assad.
The new front does not include some groups which Western officials consider the most radical such as the Nusra Front, an affiliate of al Qaeda which has claimed responsibility for a series of devastating bombs in Damascus and Aleppo. Ahrar al Sham, a Salafist group which includes a large contingent of foreign fighters, withdrew, objecting to the killing of a Salafist leader killed by a rival rebel force. But rebel sources said talks were continuing to bring Ahrar al Sham back, and leader of the new front, Ahmad al Sheikh, said it was continuing to attract members.
"We have more than 40,000 fighters now and the numbers are growing because more brigades are expressing interest in joining," said Sheikh, known to his men as Abu Eissa. Accurate figures for the total rebel numbers are hard to establish but such a force could represent around half of Assad's armed opponents. Originally the group was called the Islamic Front to Liberate Syria.