Syrian rebels break with al Qaeda
A schism is developing in northern Syria between jihadists and Free Syrian Army units, which threatens to pitch both groups against each other and open a new phase in the Syrian civil war.
Rebel commanders who fight under the Free Syrian Army banner say they have become increasingly angered by the behaviour of jihadist groups, especially the al-Qaida-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra, who they say aim to hijack the goals of the revolution.
The rising tensions are palpable in the countryside near Aleppo, which has become a stronghold for the well-armed and highly motivated jihadists, many of whom espouse the Bin Laden worldview and see Syria as a theatre in which to conduct a global jihad.
Syrian rebel groups, on the other hand, maintain that their goals are nationalistic and not aimed at imposing Islamic fundamentalism on the society if and when the Assad regime falls.
Fighting between the well-armed jihadists and the regular units who accepted their help from late last summer would mark a dramatic escalation in the conflict that has claimed in excess of 60,000 lives. However, commanders in the north say such an outcome now appears unavoidable.
"We will fight them on day two after Assad falls," one senior commander told the Guardian. "Until then we will no longer work with them."
In recent weeks Liwa al-Tawheed and other militias who form part of the overall Free Syrian Army brand have started conducting their own operations without inviting al-Nusra to join them.
A raid on an infantry school north of Aleppo in mid-December was one such occasion, as are ongoing attacks against Battalion 80 on the outskirts of the city's international airport and a military base to the east, known as Querres.
...The rebels should be concentrating their attacks on military bases. I don't think Assad has enough troops to defend all of them. This would present an opportunity to not only embarrass the regime, but to also acquire weapons and ammo. They are wise to distance themselves from the al Qaeda faction. Al Qaeda is mainly interested in a chaos strategy that they hope to exploit after Assad is toppled. Pushing them to the side is a smart move, and suggest the rebels are growing in strength and probably have the weapons they need for now.