Islamist Groups Reject New Syrian Opposition Coalition

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ISTANBUL -- Several extremist Islamist groups fighting in Syria have said they reject the new Syrian opposition coalition, which was formed under the guidance of the United States, Turkey and Gulf Arab countries. The development underscored worries about the rising influence of religious fundamentalism amid the chaos of the bloody civil war in Syria.

The Islamist groups are involved in fighting government forces in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, and include units aligned with Al Qaeda. They made their declaration in a video uploaded to the Internet on Sunday, saying that their goal was to establish an "Islamic state" in Syria and that they would reject any plans for the country imposed from abroad.

At the conclusion of the video, a man holds up a Koran and yells, "Make the Koran your constitution and you will prosper!"

The video, in turn, was quickly rejected by commanders of the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella group for loosely knit bands of opposition fighters across Syria, and some residents of Aleppo mocked the video on Facebook. While it called attention to the growing role played by Islamist groups, the video and the controversy it incited among other rebel groups also highlighted the lack of unity among the myriad groups trying to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

In an interview with Orient TV, a private Syrian channel based in Dubai, Abed al-Jabar al-Akidi, the commander of a rebel military council in Aleppo that supports the new political coalition, dismissed the video as merely "an expression of a personal opinion" and insisted that the coalition had broad support among the fighters.

The new National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as it is formally known, said on Monday that it would be based in Cairo, the Egyptian state news agency reported. Formed on Nov. 11 after days of negotiations in Doha, Qatar, the coalition replaces an earlier one that was regarded as ineffectual, in part because it included few figures from within Syria and had little credibility with front-line fighters.

As the new group continues to gain international recognition, it hopes to secure agreements from Western and Arab countries to supply heavier weapons to the rebels to hasten the demise of Mr. Assad's government. France, Turkey, Italy and Gulf Arab countries have already recognized the group as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, and the European Union has suggested that it may do the same soon.

Fighting continued to rage along Syria's border with Turkey on Monday. Continued fighting was reported in Ras al-Ain, a city of mixed Arab and Kurd population that has been bombarded fiercely by government jets.

Reuters reported that rebel fighters in the city, who are mainly Arabs, clashed with Kurdish fighters there, raising the ominous prospect of an armed struggle for control of Syria's predominantly Kurdish region in the east, which the government had largely ceded to local control. A local Kurdish official in Ras al-Ain was said to have been shot dead by a rebel sniper.

Most of the fighting in the Syrian conflict so far has been between the mainly Sunni Arab rebels and the Alawite-led government forces. But many analysts worry that the country's Kurds, some of whom have received military training in northern Iraq, would resort to arms to secure more autonomy or even independence for their corner of Syria, further destabilizing the country.

The fighting between the Kurds and rebels also has regional implications; the war has emboldened Kurdish militants in southeastern Turkey, where they have fought the government for nearly 30 years, to step up their attacks.

Hania Mourtada contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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