New front opens in Syria as rebels say al-Qaida attack means war

Rebels respond to assassination of one of their top commanders; last week Islamist group beheaded a rebel in Idlib.

By REUTERS
July 12, 2013 14:48
3 minute read.
Free Syrian Army's Tahrir al Sham brigade fighters in Mleha suburb of Damascus, January 26, 2013.

Free Syrian Army fighters in Mleha suburb of Damascus 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

BEIRUT - Syrian rebels said on Friday the

The FSA has been trying to build a logistics network and reinforce its presence across Syria as the US administration considers sending weapons, in part to present a bulwark against units it considers "terrorist organizations."

But with funding from Gulf-based individuals, Islamist brigades have taken a leading role in rebel-held regions of Syria, filling the vacuum of power by setting up religious courts and governance bodies.

The FSA -- a mixture of loosely-affiliated brigades -- is accused by locals of looting and has not been able to present a unified front to sideline hardline units who favour an Islamic caliphate over pluralist democracy.

Some frustrated FSA fighters say they have joined Islamist groups and moderate and hardline fighters sometimes buy and sell weapons from each other.

The anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, said the FSA and the Islamic State have had violent exchanges in several areas of Syria over the past few weeks, showing growing antagonism between Assad's foes.

"Last Friday, the Islamic State killed an FSA rebel in Idlib province and cut his head off. There have been attacks in many provinces," the Observatory's leader Rami Abdelrahman said.

Syria's conflict turned violent in the face of a crackdown on protests. Civil war ensued with disparate rebel groups taking up arms and the Observatory says more than 100,000 people have been killed.

US congressional committees are holding up plans to arm the rebels because of fears that such deliveries will not be decisive and the arms might end up in the hands of Islamist militants.

Syria's opposition bemoans the delay, and repeated on Thursday assurances that the arms will not go to Islamist militants.


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