BEIRUT (Reuters) – Powerful Syrian insurgent units have rejected the authority of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), badly damaging efforts by Western-backed political exiles to forge a moderate rebel military force on the ground.
Thirteen groups, including at least three previously considered part of the coalition’s military wing, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), signed a statement calling for the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad to be reorganised under an Islamic framework and to be run only by groups fighting inside Syria.
The signatories range from hardliners such as the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham battalions to more moderate Islamist groups such as the Tawheed Brigade and Islam Brigade.
“These forces feel that all groups formed abroad without having returned to the country do not represent them, and they will not recognise them,” said the statement read in an online video by Abdulaziz Salameh, the political leader of the Tawheed Brigade.
“Therefore the National Coalition and its transitional government led by Ahmad Tumeh do not represent them and will not be recognised,” he said.
Western powers and their Gulf Arab allies had encouraged the SNC to lead a credible force within Syria under the FSA’s banner and undercut Islamist militant groups piling into the conflict.
This effort to find a partner which the West and its allies could then back with weapons supplies could collapse if the rebel signatories hold their position – some groups have previously backed away from statements with hardline forces.
“If the statement proves to accurately represent the groups mentioned and they do not immediately fall apart again, it is a very big deal,” wrote analyst Aron Lund on the blog Syria Comment.
“It represents the rebellion of a large part of the ‘mainstream FSA’ against its purported political leadership, and openly aligns these factions with more hardline Islamist forces.”
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