BEIRUT // The head of the main Syrian opposition, Ahmad Jarba, has denounced the extremists he said were trying to “steal our revolution”, and blamed the regime for supporting them.
He made the comments during a speech in New York on Thursday to representatives from the Friends of Syria, international backers of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the rebels seeking to overthrow the president, Bashar Al Assad.
“The Syrian people support peace and moderation, tolerance and coexistence,” he said.
“The phenomenon of extremism appeared with the support and planning of the regime, which has gambled on the transformation of a revolution for freedom into a civil and sectarian war.”
The Syrian regime “created and armed numerous terrorist organisations and left them a place in the regions from which it has been removed”, he said.
“Other groups have come across the borders to steal our revolution.”
An unknown number of foreign fighters has streamed into Syria to join rebel groups such as Al Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. They include fighters from Europe, the Middle East and Chechnya.
Rebels initially welcomed the extremist groups and the foreign fighters who joined them, eager for weapons and battle experience.
But in recent months, relations have been tense, particularly between the Islamic State’s militants and moderate rebel factions, which have clashed on occasion.
This week, some of the biggest moderate battalions formed an alliance that includes Al Nusra, and announced their rejection of the coalition that Mr Jarba heads.
He told the meeting, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, that extremism “has increased because of the indifference of the international community, which has failed in its duties to the Syrian people”.
The opposition has repeatedly called on its international backers to provide it with weapons, but the West has been reluctant to do so for fear of the arms falling into the hands of groups such as Al Nusra, which is listed as a “terrorist” organisation by much of the West.
Despite setbacks, Mr Jarba insisted the only solution to the conflict would be Mr Al Assad’s departure.
“There is no horizon for the Syrians before the fall of the regime,” he said.
“When it goes, Syrians will regain their freedom and civil peace and harmony will be restored.”
The Friends of Syria group also declared that it was determined to boost aid to all parts of SNC, which has been struggling with increasing infighting in recent weeks.
“In order to allow a political transition, and to empower a credible alternative to both the Syrian regime and extremist groups, we are determined to increase and deepen our support to the coalition in all its components,” the group said on Thursday.
The core members of the Friends of Syria are mainly western nations, Gulf Arab countries, and Turkey.
* Agence France-Presse