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Syrian rebel infighting could take dangerous turn if Assad falls

If President Bashar al-Assad falls and the disparate Syrian opposition groups lose their common enemy, their ranks will likely fracture – perhaps violently. 

By Correspondent / December 20, 2012

Earlier this month, Free Syrian Army fighters aim their weapons as they chant religious slogans during heavy clashes with government forces at a military academy besieged by the rebels north of Aleppo, Syria.

Narciso Contreras/AP

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Aleppo, Syria

In recent weeks, a number of opposition fighters in Aleppo have come to see the fall of the Assad government as only a matter of time. But bringing down the unpopular president may be easy in comparison to unifying an opposition that at times seems held together by little more than members' shared hatred of President Bashar al-Assad.

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Without him, it's often unclear what will hold the disparate armed and civilian rebel groups together.

Last month, that much-needed moment of unity seemed to be on the not-so-distant horizon with the creation of the new Syrian opposition council in Qatar. Inside Syria, a number of Free Syrian Army fighters and civilians living in opposition controlled areas welcomed the news, praising the appointment of coalition leaders with recent time on the ground inside Syria.

But like many moments of optimism inside wartime Syria, it was short-lived. A week after the announcement of the new coalition, a group of Free Syrian Army commanders in Aleppo came together to announce that they rejected it and had decided to create their own coalition that was now calling for the creation of an Islamic state in Syria.

“The real Islam is based on human rights and justice so what we want in a new state is justice. We want the shariah to be the constitution and apply shariah law, such as cutting off the hand of thieves,” says Mohammad Abdu, a leader of Liwa Towheed, one of the largest FSA units in Aleppo in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor the day after the meeting.

Civilians working with the opposition inside Syria had not been represented in the meeting, but Mr. Abdu says he was “certain” they would agree. They did not. Muthana al Naser, spokesman for the Free Lawyers of Aleppo called it a “hasty decision” that did not “represent the revolution.”

The moment of unity that many had hoped for seemed to have slipped away before it ever had a chance to take hold. And the fracturing continued.

Today's brigades are tomorrow's militias 

In the days that followed, the many commanders at the meeting calling for an Islamic state said they’d been duped by Islamists at the meeting into making the statement and did not actually agree with the new announcement.

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