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Inside Syria

'Terrorists' by association

We discuss Western ties to Syria's opposition amid reports that the al-Nusra front has sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda.

Last Modified: 14 Apr 2013 10:21
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The situation has been messy from the start, but now the battle for Syria has been further complicated by the official involvement of al-Qaeda.

On Wednesday, the head of al-Nusra front in Syria formally pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri.

The establishment of al-Nusra was announced in January 2012. Considered one of the best organised, experienced, well-equipped and most effective of Syria's armed factions, the group came to prominence after claiming responsibility for a suicide bombing on police buses in Damascus that killed 26 people last year.

"Mr Khatib, the head of the coalition has made it clear that [al-Nusra's] way is away from ours, and there is no way to connect. The challenge is how to deal with the situation, given the complexity and the fact that we have now a major terrorist organisation .... The strategy has to be discussed. What we have made clear since they made the announcement is that this is unacceptable; we don't accept any group fighting with the opposition that has allegiances to al-Qaeda, period."

- Louay Safi, Syrian National Coalition

Like al-Qaeda, it has used car bombs and suicide attacks in its efforts to bring down Bashar al-Assad's government. The group is estimated to have around 5,000 members, believed to be largely funded and trained by al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Al-Nusra leaders have themselves previously admitted to recruiting fighters from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Lebanon, as well as Britain and France.

In December, the US State Department put al-Nusra on its list of terrorist organisations. It said the group was responsible for hundreds of attacks, and the deaths of countless civilians.

Meanwhile, Western leaders are still struggling to decide on their next move, to try to break the impasse in Syria.

At a meeting of G8 foreign ministers, France and Britain renewed their push to send arms to Syrian rebel fighters. But their efforts were overshadowed by the al-Nusra announcement - as well as reports of more atrocities on the ground.

"In the final communique that [the G8 have] been giving out you see exactly how difficult it is," Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee reported from London.
 
"It's very narrow. There's absolutely nothing for a start about arming the opposition .... And there's an increased problem as well for the British and the Americans who are here about arming an opposition that now contains al-Nusra - linked to al-Qaeda. 

"And they've been briefing behind the scenes here that although formally there's nothing off the table, they say people like us have to accept how difficult it would be to sell the idea of arming an opposition that may be linked to the Free Syrian Army but also is linked to al-Qaeda. They simply can't sell that idea domestically."

"I think it's something clearly the opposition forces have to deal with. I think this organisation [al-Nusra] should be isolated from the larger effort. For the life of me I don't understand how we can go forward with an al-Qaeda organisation, an organisation that swears allegiance to the goals and objectives of al-Qaeda, a fundamental terrorist organisation and one of the worst in the world, now associated with the opposition group to overthrow Assad."

- Jack Keane, former US army general

"And so instead the communique leans much more heavily on the idea of a political transition - an idea backed heavily by the UN Security Council that they say meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," he said.

The G8, which was originally designed to allow the rich world to talk about help for the poor, has since the days when Russia was co-opted in, become increasingly concerned with security. But they are all not on the same page.

G8 foreign ministers are divided on a plan to arm the Syrian opposition. The UK foreign minister has described Syria as the crisis of the century, and the US and EU have begun sending 'non-lethal' aid to Syrian rebels.

Meanwhile, Iran, Russia and China are major supporters of al-Assad.

Some 70,000 people have been killed since the uprising began two years ago, and world leaders have thus far failed to agree on a plan to end the crisis there.  
 
Elsewhere, on a day when another Syrian jet fighter was shot down to the joy of the opposition, Human Rights Watch announced that they were sufficiently outraged by the regime’s tactics and described air attacks on civliians as a war crime.

The group released a report saying 4,300 civilians have been killed in air strikes since July 2012, and the Syrian government should be held accountable.

To discuss the latest developments, Inside Syria, with presenter Ghida Fakhry is joined by guests: Shiraz Maher from King's College International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation; retired General Jack Keane, a former four-star general and US army vice chief of staff; and Louay Safi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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