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

Richard Hall
Thursday 26 September 2013 01:04
Comments
Coalition of powerful rebel groups reject Western-backed opposition
Coalition of powerful rebel groups reject Western-backed opposition

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.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in