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    Syria: nearly half rebel fighters are jihadists or hardline Islamists

    Nearly half the rebel fighters in Syria are now aligned to jihadist or hardline Islamist groups according to a new analysis of factions in the country's civil war.

    Opposition forces battling Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria now number around 100,000 fighters, but after more than two years of fighting they are fragmented into as many as 1,000 bands.

    The new study by IHS Jane's, a defence consultancy, estimates there are around 10,000 jihadists - who would include foreign fighters - fighting for powerful factions linked to al-Qaeda..

    Another 30,000 to 35,000 are hardline Islamists who share much of the outlook of the jihadists, but are focused purely on the Syrian war rather than a wider international struggle.

    There are also at least a further 30,000 moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character, meaning only a small minority of the rebels are linked to secular or purely nationalist groups.

    The stark assessment, to be published later this week, accords with the view of Western diplomats estimate that less than one third of the opposition forces are "palatable" to Britain, while American envoys put the figure even lower.

    Fears that the rebellion against the Assad regime is being increasingly dominated by extremists has fuelled concerns in the West over supplying weaponry that will fall into hostile hands. These fears contributed to unease in the US and elsewhere over military intervention in Syria.

    Charles Lister, author of the analysis, said: "The insurgency is now dominated by groups which have at least an Islamist viewpoint on the conflict. The idea that it is mostly secular groups leading the opposition is just not borne out."

    The study is based on intelligence estimates and interviews with activists and militants. The lengthy fighting has seen the emergence of hundreds of separate rebel bands, each operating in small pockets of the country, which are usually loyal to larger factions.

    Two factions linked to al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - also know as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) - have come to dominate among the more extremist fighters, Mr Lister said. Their influence has risen significantly in the past year.

    "Because of the Islamist make up of such a large proportion of the opposition, the fear is that if the West doesn't play its cards right, it will end up pushing these people away from the people we are backing," he said. "If the West looks as though it is not interested in removing Assad, moderate Islamists are also likely to be pushed further towards extremists."

    Though still a minority in number, ISIL has become more prominent in rebel-held parts of Syria in recent months. Members in northern Syria have sought to assert their dominance over the local population and over the more moderate rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

    Read more at The Telegraph

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    Guest Tuesday, 11 August 2020