Syrian rebel groups form Islamist front

Syrian rebel groups form Islamist front

Syrian rebel groups form Islamist front

A Free Syrian Army fighter carries his weapon as he peeks out from a damaged shop in Aleppo. REUTERS photo

The six largest Islamist rebel factions in Syria have declared a new Islamic Front, forming the largest alliance of opposition fighters yet in the country’s ongoing civil war.

Syria’s fractious rebel forces have tried many times to unify their ranks and failed. Islamist rebel commanders said their new union would not only seek to oust President Bashar al-Assad but establish an Islamic state.

“This independent political, military and social formation aims to topple the al-Assad regime completely and build an Islamic state where the sovereignty of God almighty alone will be our reference and ruler,” said Ahmed Eissa, who heads the Suqour al-Sham brigades.

The merger undermines the secular Free Syrian Army (FSA) leadership, once seen as a symbolic umbrella leadership for all the rebels but weakened by infighting and defections.

“Thank God, the complete merger of the major military factions fighting in Syria has been announced,” Liwa al-Tawhid spokesman Abu Firas said in a posting on Facebook.

The creation of the joint force, which has been dubbed the Islamic Front, came after major regime advances on key battlegrounds around Damascus and Aleppo in northern Syria.

Opposition sources and experts have attributed the regime’s successes in part to rebel disunity. The groups merged days after the death of Liwa al-Tawhid’s charismatic military chief Abdel Qader Saleh, who had reportedly made calls for such a rebel alliance.

According to Abu Firas, the groups merging their troops were Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, the Army of Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Haq and the Ansar al-Sham battalions. Activists on the ground welcomed news of the merger as “bad news” both for al-Assad’s regime and for the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has fought against some rebel brigades in opposition-held areas.