Syrian Rebels Unite, Call for Islamic State
Following a series of losses in and around Aleppo and Damascus, some Syrian rebel groups are making good on their commitment to end the bloody infighting between them which pro-regime forces have been capitalizing on.
To that effect, leaders of prominent Islamist opposition brigades announced the establishment of he "Islamic Front" (in Arabic, "Al-Jabhat al-Islam") - calling it "a political, military, and socially independent body."
The founding statement of the new body, which was broadcast Friday, said that the new body "seeks to completely topple the Assad regime in Syria" and "to establish an Islamic state which follows the right path."
In other words, the group aims to establish a sovereign rule based on fundamentalist Islamic teachings - both as a political system and as a moral code regulating individual behavior.
The Islamic Front includes members of over 50 rebel organizations, including the Army of Islam, the Kurdish Islamic Front, the Al-Ansar Brigades, Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, and Liwa al-Haqq, among others.
Notably absent, however, are Al Qaeda-linked groups Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS). Their absence could be another illustration of the rift which exists between Al Qaeda - which aims to use Syria as a platform to engage in "global jihad" - and the more domestic ambitions of other Syrian Islamist brigades.
However, speaking to AFP, Liwa al-Tawhid spokesman Abu Firas left the door open for other factions to join.
"The doors are open to all the military factions, and a committee is working to study the entrance of all groups that also want to join," he said.
"It has been decided that all the factions' military, media, humanitarian and administrative offices will merge over a transitional period of three months," he added.
The Syrian Civil War has been the ground zero for an all-out holy war between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, in the wake of an uprising by the Syrian people against Syrian President Bashar Assad, who identifies with the Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shia islam.
Foreign nationals have poured into Syria to fight on both sides of the conflict, raising concerns that the increasingly sectarian conflict could spill over into not only neighboring countries (as has already occurred e.g. in Lebanon and Iraq), but even further afield, as Islamist fighters from across the globe receive ideological instruction and battlefield experience which they could potentially take back home with them.
The merger may tip the balance of power in the rebels' favor, by eliminating the infighting which has characterized the conflict since 2011.