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Syrian moderates fear being edged out of uprising

Some of Syria's moderate opposition members worry they are losing a place in the fight against the regime as better-armed, more experienced hard-line groups proliferate. 

By Correspondent / December 26, 2012

Members of the Free Syrian Army prepare to launch a missile in Idlib December 25.

Abdalghne Karoof/Reuters

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Aleppo, Syria

Abdul Rahman, a quiet, even-tempered man, leads a collection of moderate Free Syrian Army battalions in Aleppo. He says groups like his are becoming harder to find as the 21-month uprising drags on and more groups lean either secular or Islamist extremist.

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At a time when opposition fighters live and die by their ability to get equipment, Mr. Rahman says it’s become more difficult for those in the middle ideologically to get supplies, with most donors choosing to support hardened secularists or Islamists.

Recently, Rahman had to break with some of the battalions he formerly commanded, in part because some were involved in criminal activity and there were disagreements among leaders, but also because of shortages of equipment.

“The moderates are the majority of people here in Syria, but now they are decreasing without any support,” he says. “If it continues like it is now, extremist groups will have a lot of influence after the Assad government falls.”

'People are desperate'

Abu Karam, the leader of the opposition’s Abu Bakar al Sadeq battalion, says that a number of well-funded, hard-line groups are using their resources to enlarge their base of support. “People are desperate and they will take assistance from whoever is giving it,” he says.

Many Syrians are worried about what Rahman and other moderates describe as an increasingly polarized political landscape among the Syrian opposition. Hard-line groups exist among both the Islamists and secularists, but many Syrians say that conservative Islamist groups are gaining the most ground inside Syria right now. Throughout Aleppo, a number of civilians are also calling for a post-Assad government to be based on sharia, or Islamic law.

Despite moderates' fears, many Syrians, regardless of their affiliations and beliefs, say the trend toward conservative Islam is largely a response to decades of secular rule under the Assad regime and does not necessarily indicate the desire for an ultra-conservative regime in Syria.

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