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Syria conflict: 5 warring factions

Syria is at the nexus of some of the Middle East's most central problems, meaning that fallout from its uprising is likely to ripple, in unpredictable ways, through the region. Here's a brief guide to the actors in the conflict.

Foreign fighters

The Assad regime blames the violence on "armed terrorist gangs" sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and says Al Qaeda is operating in the country. Several large-scale bombings in Damascus and Aleppo have been claimed by a previously unknown jihadist group called the Nusrat Front. The Syrian opposition says the regime carried out the attacks to bolster its claim that Al Qaeda is present in Syria.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's leader, has called upon Muslims to go to Syria and fight Assad. While there is credible evidence to suggest that elements of the armed opposition are inspired by religion, a formal Al Qaeda presence is unconfirmed. There is anecdotal evidence of foreign Arab fighters entering Syria to join armed groups. (See related story, page 21.) They include nationals from Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Libya.

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