Syrian Islamists reject new coalition
BY Associated Press
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
11/20/12 at 5:53 AM
Syria's increasingly powerful Islamist rebel factions rejected the country's new Western-backed opposition coalition and unilaterally declared an Islamic state in the key battleground of Aleppo, a sign of the seemingly intractable splits among those fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
The move highlights the struggle over the direction of the rebellion at a time when the opposition is trying to gain the West's trust and secure a flow of weapons to fight the regime. The rising profile of the extremist faction among the rebels could doom those efforts.
Such divisions have hobbled the opposition over the course of the uprising, which has descended into a bloody civil war. According to activists, nearly 40,000 people have been killed since the revolt began 20 months ago. The fighting has been particularly extreme in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that as the coalition endorsed pluralism and tolerance, "it's not surprising to us that those who want an extremist state, or a heavily Islamist state in Syria have taken issue with this."
The Islamists' announcement, made in an online video, shows the competing influences within the rebellion, between religious hard-liners who want to create an Islamic state in Syria - including foreign al-Qaida-style jihadi fighters - and the newly formed Syrian National Coalition, which was created earlier this month in hopes of uniting the disparate groups fighting Assad's regime.
The National Coalition was formed under pressure from the United States, which sought a more reliable partner that nations could support. A moderate cleric, Mouaz al-Khatib, was chosen as its leader.