Syria crisis: Coalition of powerful rebel groups rejects Western-backed opposition

Blow for Syrian National Coalition which is recognised by more than 100 countries as a legitimate representative of forces fighting Assad regime

A coalition of powerful rebel groups in Syria has announced that it does not recognise the Western-backed opposition-in-exile, dealing a crippling blow to the West’s efforts to support moderate rebels fighting to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.

A statement signed by eleven rebel groups based largely in the north of the country – among them the al-Qa’ida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra – denounced the “unrepresentative” Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and called for  the opposition to reorganise under “an Islamic framework based on sharia [Islamic law]”.

It insisted that forces fighting on the ground should be represented by “those who suffered and took part in the sacrifices.”

In what may prove to be a fatal blow for the Istanbul-based National Coalition – which already beset with infighting and allegations of corruption – the new coalition includes a number of rebel groups with which it was previously associated, meaning a depletion of its military as well as political strength.

The three moderate Islamist groups which signed the statement – Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Islam and Suqur al-Sham – had represented the bulk of the SNC’s presence on the ground in Syria, loosely organised under the umbrella of the Supreme Military Council, according to Charles Lister, an analyst with IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

“It is likely that the moderate Islamist coalition has ceased to exist as a single organisation structure,“ he said.

The SNC was formed in November last year and is recognised by more than 100 countries as a legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition.

Rebels on the ground in Syria have often complained that SNC is too far removed from the fighting to be its legitimate representative. The split appears to have been hastened by the SNC’s support for Western intervention in Syria – something opposed by the groups who signed the statement.

The move will reduce the influence of Western countries on the outcome of the conflict. Many, including the US, UK and France, have sought to bolster the SNC with political support in the hope that it would form the basis of a political body to replace the current Syrian government after the fall of Mr Assad.

The SNC was marked out early on in the conflict as the conduit through which any military aid from the West would pass. The depletion of its fighting force is likely to dramatically reduce the chances of military assistance from the US and the UK.  

“If this new alliance holds, it will likely prove the most significant turning point in the evolution of Syria’s anti-government insurgency to date,” said Mr Lister.

“Having towed politically pragmatic lines since their emergence onto the scene in Syria, the key Islamist middle-ground players – Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Islam, and Suqor al-Sham – have finally made clear where their allegiances lie, with huge implications for the moderate opposition.”

The new coalition may also herald the creation of a new fighting force in Syria. Aron Lund, an expert on the Syrian opposition writing at Syria Comment, reported that an influential member of one of the groups involved has hinted at the creation of a “new army.”

Mr Lund said of the new grouping: “already at this stage, it looks – on paper, at least – like the most powerful insurgent alliance in Syria.”

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Recruitment Genius: Partner Manager - EMEA

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Partner Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Sales Manager - OTE £100,000

£45000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Sales Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company provides IT support...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific