Syrian opposition calls on al-Nusra to cut al-Qaeda ties

Syrian opposition calls on al-Nusra to cut al-Qaeda ties
Ahead of a mid-December meeting to produce unified delegation to negotiate with Assad's regime, a key Syrian opposition coalition urged Monday the powerful rebel Nusra Front to break with al-Qaeda.
3 min read
23 November, 2015
The SNC wants al-Nusra Front to break with jihadism and pursue a Syrian agenda [AFP]
One of Syria's leading political opposition bodies, the Syrian National Coalition, has called on al-Nusra Front to dissociate itself from the radical jihadi group al-Qaeda.

"We call on honest Syrian revolutionaries [in the Nusra Front] to return to the broad umbrella of the revolution, and on all Syrian factions to adopt the path that started the revolution, emphasising the supreme national identity that accommodates all Syrians," said Khaled al-Khoja, head of the SNC in a press conference in Istanbul on Monday

Nusra was formed in late 2011, when the leader of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sent Abu Muhammad al-Joulani to Syria to organise jihadi cells in the region.

In 2012, Nusra began to rise to in prominence among rebel organisations in Syria for its reliable supply of arms, funding, and fighters that came from a combination of foreign donors and al-Qaeda.

Considered well-trained, professional, and relatively successful on the battlefield, Nusra have earned the respect and support of many rebel groups, including many moderate-leaning groups, early in the war.

The group's reputation among rebels and the Syrian population was strong enough that when the United States designated it as a terrorist organisation in December 2012.

A number of anti-government groups including some Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters protested the designation.

In 2013, tensions developed between Nusra and its parent organisation al-Qaeda in Iraq when Baghdadi unilaterally proclaimed that the two organisations had merged to create the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Riyadh conference

The SNC also welcomed the Saudi efforts to convene a conference for the Syrian opposition in mid-December, aimed at producing a unified delegation to negotiate with the Syrian regime as part of the Vienna peace process.

Khoja confirmed the SNC would take part in the putative Riyadh conference, and work with all other "revolutionary" factions to ensure its success.

However, Khoja stressed that there can be no solution in Syria as long as Bashar al-Assad remained in power.

Meanwhile, an informed source in the Syrian opposition told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Saudi Foreign Ministry officials told the SNC leadership only two main political opposition bodies would be invited to the conference - the SNC and the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC).

Other groups and members of the opposition would be invited individually, with the conference set to host between 60 and 80 Syrian opposition figures.

Major powers with an interest in the conflict had set an ambitious target date of 1 January for talks and a ceasefire to begin, but the participants have yet to be identified.

Saudi Arabia, which supports some of the rebel forces active on the battlefield, has taken charge of assembling a motley coalition of exile groups, armed factions and Islamist parties.

These would exclude IS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra.

However, they could draw in groups such as Nusra's powerful Islamist ally Ahrar al-Sham.

The hope is that if a broad enough "moderate" opposition coalition can enter a ceasefire and peace negotiations with Assad's loyalists, a path to a political transition an be found.