West suspends aid for Islamist rebels in Syria, underlining their disillusionment with those forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad

A spokesperson for the Free Syrian Army said the move was rushed and mistaken

Britain and America's decision to suspend deliveries of non-lethal aid to Islamist rebels operating in northern Syria came after fighters from the Islamic Front drove the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) out of bases and warehouses contained American-supplied equipment in the north-western Syrian province of Idlib.

The significance of the British and American action is that it underlines their disillusionment with the Syrian rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, whom they once lauded as the future rulers of Syria. Washington and London have been trying to target aid to groups opposed to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the umbrella group for al-Qa'ida in Iraq and Syria, and the al-Nusra Front, another extreme jihadi Sunni military organisation.

In this case Britain and US are moving against the Islamic Front, an alliance of leading rebel groups including Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haq, Ansar al-Sham and the Kurdish Islamic Front, set up last month and with good relations with the al-Nusra Front. Its precise links to Saudi Arabia are unclear, but the Saudis have started to take a stronger leadership role in funding Syrian rebels since last summer, replacing Qatar which previously cooperated with Turkey in supporting the insurgency in Syria.

Saudi willingness to spend seemingly limitless funds and the creation of the Islamic Front has inevitably weakened the FSA's Supreme Military Council and the Western-backed National Coalition, and is likely to increase fragmentation and extremism among rebels inside and outside Syria.

Louay Meqdad, a spokesperson for the FSA, said the move by the US and Britain was rushed and mistaken. “We hope our friends will rethink and wait for a few days when things will be clearer,” he said.

American intelligence officials estimate that there are 1,200 rebel military units ranging from groups based on extended families to those able to field several thousand fighters. Although opposed to ISIL, the Islamic Front is avowedly Sunni and sectarian in its orientation and opposed to a political solution of the civil war.

An important development in recent weeks in Syria has been the divergence between Saudi and American policy aims as a result of Saudi frustration that President Obama did not launch a military attack on Syria as after pro-Assad forces apparently used chemical weapons on a mass scale in Damascus on 21 August. In practice, this means that the Washington does not want to see Mr Assad replaced in the short term and one senior former US diplomat has called for confidential talks with the government in Damascus on combating al-Qa'ida linked groups.

Saudi impatience with US policy was further exacerbated by the interim deal last month between a US-led delegation and Iran on limiting Iran's nuclear programme. But it is doubtful if Saudi Arabia can truly adopt and stick with a separate policy from the US in Syria in which it funds a Sunni army 40,000 to 50,000 strong that is hostile to both al-Qa'ida linked movements and to Mr Assad. Belief that these groups are essentially warlords on the Saudi payroll is unlikely to increase their appeal to Syrian nationalists or to jihadis.

Saudi Arabia might be able to keep the war going in Syria but neither the rebels nor Mr Assad can win a decisive victory. The Syrian Army has recently succeeded in clearing the main Damascus to Homs road and are advancing on the town of Yabrud which is a notorious rebel strongpoint to the west of the main road in foothills of the Qalamoun Mountains.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas