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Syria rebels reject West-backed coalition,call for Islamic leadership

Setback for foreign leaders trying to reassure voters sceptical of deeper involvement in Syria’s civil war.

Written by Reuters | Beirut |
September 26, 2013 12:15:22 am

Thousands of Syrian rebels have broken with the Western-backed coalition to form a new Islamist force that may pressure President Bashar al-Assad but also undermine the West’s hopes of putting its friends in his place.

Ever more divided on a battlefield where Assad’s better armed troops have been gaining ground,allies of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) were among 13 disparate rebel factions to disown the exile leadership and support an Islamic alliance that includes the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front,commanders said on Tuesday.

Details of the numbers of fighters involved and of how they would cooperate remained unclear. But,in an online video,a leader of the Islamist Tawheed Brigade said the bloc rejected the authority of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the Western- and Saudi-backed exile administration of Ahmad Tumeh.

It is a setback for foreign leaders trying to bolster more secular rebel groups and to reassure voters sceptical of deeper involvement in Syria’s civil war. Some may think again about help for the fighters,which ranges from weaponry from the Gulf to non-lethal aid from Europe and the United States.

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For Assad,already cheered by Russian diplomatic assistance that undermined US plans to bomb his forces following a poison gas attack,any more powerful rebel coalition could challenge his army’s resurgence in the field. But that could be more than offset by a weakening of international backing for his enemies.

A more visible role for Islamist radicals at the expense of the SNC may bolster Assad’s argument that the alternative to his rule is a Syria run by al Qaeda.

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