Syria's fractured opposition forces, which have spent nearly 20 months trying to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, declared independence this week from Damascus – and from each other. The powerful radical Islamist rebel factions on Monday declared an independent Islamic state in the city of Aleppo, the country's northern commercial hub.
The announcement came in a video statement posted on the Internet that denounced the new opposition Syrian National Coalition as a foreign creation.
"We are the representatives of the fighting formations in Aleppo and we declare our rejection of the conspiratorial project, the so-called national alliance,” said an unidentified speaker. “We have unanimously agreed to urgently establish an Islamic state.”
Among the 13 Muslim extremist factions involved are those who are foreign Al Qaeda-type jihadists, including the al-Tawheed Brigade, and the Jabhat al-Nusra. Other members include those who are backed by the local Muslim Brotherhood.
The move came as a blunt rejection of Syria's new Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition, and validates the concerns expressed by the international community that prevented stronger military support for the revolt. Western leaders have withheld arms shipments to the rebels in their struggle to depose Assad, believing they would end up in the hands of Muslim extremists.
The fracturing mirrors similar difficulties with the Palestinian Authority, which was armed and trained by the United States and other Western nations. In 2007, the Islamist Hamas terrorist organization seized control of the Gaza region and entirely ousted its rival Fatah faction. But within the past two years, the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim Islamic Jihad terror group and even more extremist Salafi Islamist Global Jihad organizations such as the Army of Islam have begun to challenge Hamas for control of the region.
Meanwhile, Hamas has threatened to declare Gaza to be an independent sovereign state altogether, separate and apart from the Palestinian Authority, which has yet to negotiate any final status agreement with Israel, as mandated in the internationally-recognized 1993 Oslo Accords.
Nearly 40,000 Syrians have been killed since the civil war began in March 2011, ignited by the region-wide Arab Spring uprisings. But what began as peaceful, unarmed protests soon evolved into armed revolution in the face of the brutal government crackdowns by Assad forces. As the rebellion strengthened and the numbers rose, so too did the diversity of the factions involved, which eventually included radical Muslim extremists.