News / Middle East

Moderate Syrian Rebels Threaten to Quit

FILE - A Free Syrian Army fighter rests in an area south of Aleppo.
FILE - A Free Syrian Army fighter rests in an area south of Aleppo.

After months of fighting the Syrian regime and jihadist insurgents, some moderate and Islamist rebel brigades in northern Syria say they have had enough and are threatening to quit.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, eleven rebel factions mainly based in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and parts of Aleppo province asked for “reinforcements and complete aid” to help them fight the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which this week declared a “Caliphate” straddling the Iraq-Syria border and began calling itself the Islamic State.

The demoralized rebels set a one-week deadline.

“Should our call not be heard, we will lay down our weapons and pull out our fighters,” they said.

The notice to quit the two-front conflict comes as signs mount of defections both from al Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and hardcore Islamists to ISIL, which has been spearheading a militant Sunni insurgency in northern and western Iraq while advancing in parts of northern Syria, especially on the outskirts of Aleppo, where moderate rebels forced it to withdraw earlier this year.

Videos posted online show al-Nusra fighters switching sides. In one from the town of Sheheil, once an al-Nusra stronghold, a man is shown reading a statement, saying: "We have decided to declare our allegiance to the Islamic State."

The warning isn’t an idle one, says Bayan Khatib, a Toronto-based spokeswoman for the Western-backed Syrian Coalition.

“The statement comes on the heels of ISIL’s recent advances in Deir Ezzor and more alarmingly in the northern suburbs of Aleppo,” she said. “These groups have been screaming at the top of their lungs for months for assistance that never came. In their statement they predict that ISIL will take over all opposition territory in Syria unless decisive action is taken promptly.”

None of the brigades that are making the threat to quit are among the largest rebel factions – they include the Raqqa Rebel Brigade and the Kurdish Front—but analysts say their demoralization reflects wider disillusionment across rebel ranks and augurs badly for a renewed Western determination to build up more moderate insurgent groups in Syria as a counter to ISIL expansion in the region.

Promises unmet

During a visit to Saudi Arabia last week, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the moderate Syrian opposition has “the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against (the jihadists’) presence.” 

And President Obama last month asked the US Congress to approve $500 million to train and equip moderate Syrian insurgents.

But promises have been made before, say rebels and sufficient assistance has never materialized.

The Obama administration worries about potential weapons spillage from moderate and Islamist rebel brigades to ISIL jihadists, who were allied with the Western-approved Free Syrian Army (FSA) until insurgent infighting erupted last winter.

Al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra still cooperates with other rebel groups – both moderates and Islamists – and has been at the center of intense fighting against ISIL since the jihadist group was disowned by al-Qaida leaders.

President Obama Wednesday called Saudi Arabia’s leader King Abdullah to discuss the regional threat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria poses.

“Evil ideology”

In their statement this week, the rebel groups also appealed for help from militias in the Islamic Front, an Islamist coalition made up of seven militias that cooperate with the FSA.  Islamists are locked in fierce fighting in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus.

One of the front’s leaders, Zahran Alloush, posted a video online this week urging his fighters to remember that when battling ISIL they were battling “dirty bastards, with an evil ideology.”

Fourteen of his fighters have died in the clashes in Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based anti-Assad information network that relies on activists on the ground for its information.

The Observatory says also that fighting between anti-IS Kurdish fighters and the jihadist group near the border with Turkey has led to an upsurge in civilians fleeing the villages of Ikhtarin and Rai near the border with Turkey, sparking a “large” exodus of civilians from the area.

Anti-ISIL rebels in Syria say their biggest concern is the flow of arms and heavy equipment—including artillery and Scud missiles—their foes have seized in their rapid drive in northern and western Iraq, the remains of arsenals left by retreating Iraqi security forces.

ISIL has been shifting weapons across combat zones in Syria and Iraq to where the need is greatest. 

And with every victory, its arsenal only increases.

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by: Godwin from: Nigeria
July 05, 2014 2:30 PM
This is good news some terrorists want to quit. However calling terror moderate is to justify the error of it all. What is bad is bad. Nobody called them to form a terror alliance in the first place, so if they quit, let them quit, for they are in all sincerity unwanted. But the snag is about whether their quitting will mean dissolution of the terror group or will they remain bone in the neck to the world as other terror groups - al qaida, Hamas, boko haram, Hezbollah, el shebaab, etc. have become both to the regions and the world at large? Will they not turn around to demand for compensation from their mentors - those who talked them into forming the group to help destabilize their country? That is where the trouble lies. If they will dissolve into society without remaining a splinter group to want to recoup lost moments - jobs, businesses et al which they abandoned to join force in prosecution of the unsuccessful mission in Syria. What about the contribution to the rise of ISIL, will the quitting of the so-called moderates also impact the existence of another hydra head of al qaida in Iraq now asking not just to be a terror group but a country? Imagine a monsters growing to the size of a giant, with sense like humans, eyes and ability to move.

Too bad the west just bit more than it can chew. Worse still, an inept administration in a country that supports Syrian change of administration only in words without understanding what it takes to make a presidential insinuation like that. It glares in the face of USA now too well known for abandoning its friends in the lurch - Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Syria... and counting - had the US not left Iraq in a hurry! Just to think aloud, could ISIL be Saudi Arabia's ace in the gamble with USA's choice of Iran in the Middle East in preference to its former allies? At the long run, wouldn't the best idea be to leave Bashir al Assad alone to round up his regime? For while the fighting rages on, he has won another landslide victory to rule the country for another seven years. Had the west agreed to follow due process in regime change, perhaps Assad could have agreed to step down. With the complication on the ground, is going back to the drawing board going to win the game? Chaos is the name of the game when an inexperienced leader leads a country. What is the name if the leader doubles also as leader of the world? It is catastrophic! ISIL is like when the defender of the universe turns round on destroyer mission to the universe it's supposed to preserve!

by: Ben
July 05, 2014 2:07 AM
Wow... so Islamists are moderate now... OK...

by: Lawrence Bush from: Kennebonkport
July 04, 2014 5:17 AM
The Syrian moderate rebel groups that are fighting against the Assad regime certainly necessiate sustained supply of arms and amunitions including proper surveillance systems. The traitor rebel groups that are the affiliates of al Queda are more concerned with the formation of ISIL chiseling out of Syria and Iraq. It is true - within the Syrian territory, there have been fights between these two ideologies and such rebel groups. Our govt. must endeavor to coordinate with our friendly states in the Middle East to assisting out therebel groups like the Free Syrian Army in Syria to sustain their fights against the Assad regime plus the Hizbollah bandits thereby sustaing the arms supplies. Beyond the Syrian territory, as the Assad regime does have many positive mentors to bolster its fight to sustain and liquidating the rebel side, unless there do remain sufficient politico-diplomatic supports plus the tactical arms supplies for the trusted moderate rebel sides, the governments who do support the rebel sides in the Syrian civil war in a half cock manner, are really making the mockery of the Syrian casualties, human rights abuses.......

by: Not Again from: Canada
July 03, 2014 10:51 PM
The reality on the ground is that secular and moderate Syrian Sunnis are becoming rare, they are outguned, outfunded and outsupported by the Assad/Hebollah/Iranian forces on the West and being squeezed to a dead end eastwards; exactly the same situation is happening on their Eastern/Southern front from which ISIS/ISIL is advancing. They have lost ground, lost fighters, have lost cohesiveness, and now their morale is rapidly sinking; the more hardened and dedicated will probably switch to the ISIS/ISIL shortly, the others will be forced to exit into Turkey,; if this scenario materializes, ISIL/ISIS will inherit the total support of those that are in it, because they see it as a fight for survival for the Sunni Muslims.
Maliki, if he stays in power in Iraq, will moderate his approach, for as long as it benefits him, and then once again push out the Sunni and the Kurds from having any meaningfull impact in the Iraqi gvmt. Maliki allready has the full backing of Iran, and now Russia is starting to enter the conflict on his side, so he no longer is in a very precarious situation.
This conflict will not come to a good end, the sole firm potential reliable ally, the US has in Iraq, are the Kurds. The nature of the conflict, is absolutely a Shia-Sunni issue, which started in Lebanon three+ decades ago, expanded fully into the open in Syria, and the showdown will be in Iraq. As Iran advances into Iraq, Saudi Arabia has no choice but to head the same way, and Pakistan also will close ranks- all of it was predictable, Baghdad is the trip wire for this major conflict.
The sit is looking really detrimental for peace and regional stability. The US, I think, needs to side with its traditional allies, and as possible help the Kurds remain stable; it is not a good picture. In time and with effort, from the air, ISIS/ISIL will wear out.

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