European Union Embraces Syria Rebel Group While Islamists Reject Them

4798Syrian Islamists fighting the Assad regime rejected a newly formed opposition umbrella group, raising questions about whether the new alliance can achieve its objective: to create a moderate force that can get funds and arms from foreign allies.

Syrian rebel fighters check a tank they say they took after storming a military base in Aleppo on Monday.
The umbrella group also got a boost Monday when the European Union labeled the coalition "legitimate representatives" of the Syrian people. The move stopped short of a French push for the EU to formally recognize the group, as did France, Qatar and Turkey earlier.

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which was formed this month in Qatar with the backing of Western allies, was intended to diminish the influence of some of those same hard-line, ultraconservative Muslim militias that on Monday rejected the group.

Still, if the Islamist groups fight on as separate entities they pose a challenge to the unity of the opposition and its ability to challenge the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in a coordinated way.

"The situation is getting worse and more difficult for anyone to manage," said Radwan Ziadeh, a prominent opposition figure and director of Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C., who said the video was of concern to his group. "Bringing the [rebel Free Syrian Army] under one group is our biggest challenge."

Representatives from 13 Islamist factions, some dressed in military uniform, released a video statement of them rejecting the coalition. A Quran is prominently placed in front of a man reading the statement and on occasion the crowd breaks into chants of "Allah Akbar" or "God is Great." It wasn't clear how many fighters the factions represent, but they included one prominent militant group, Jabhat al-Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate.

"We reached a consensus on the establishment of a just Islamic state and the rejection of any foreign plan from coalitions or councils imposed on those of us inside [Syria] no matter which side it [intervention] comes from," the man reading the statement said in the video, which was sent to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group based in London.

The council's supporters say that now is too early to judge whether the group is having impact over the war in Syria, but they assert their formation has given some members of the Free Syrian Army a moral boost. Many ordinary Syrians, opposition supporters say, are heartened to see the political leadership unify.

Meanwhile, EU diplomats said France had pushed European countries to recognize the council and to be invited to the next meeting of foreign ministers in December. Paris also raised the issue of peeling back the EU's arms embargo on Syria to allow the opposition to receive "defensive" weapons. No decisions were made on either issue.

Source: Wall Street Journal | FARNAZ FASSIHI
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