x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A hopeless war pushes Syria's rebels apart

Fighting between factions of the Syrian opposition, apparently growing worse, is a sad but predictable result of the innate problems of bad political leadership and military setbacks.

The second revolution in Egypt has to a large degree sucked all the air out of the room, leaving little political or media attention focused on Syria, where the uprising continues to burn through large parts of the country.

Outside Syria, political disagreements continue at every level. The opposition's National Coalition remains in disarray. The US and Russia continue to disagree about the way forward and even the pledge by the Obama administration to supply some weapons to the Free Syrian Army is being thwarted by the US Congress.

But inside, those fighting against Bashar Al Assad are themselves embroiled in internal conflicts. Over the weekend, news emerged that Kamal Hamami, a member of the Free Syrian Army's supreme military council, was killed by militants linked to Al Qaeda inside Syria.

Hamami was apparently killed in an ambush on his way to meet members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an offshoot of Al Qaeda that operates in the country. One reason put forward is that there was a disagreement over escalating the conflict on Syria's coast, home to a combustible mix of Alawite and Sunni Muslims. Such disagreements, even if they were not the cause of this killing, are now a common feature of the internal battles of the FSA.

As the war has continued - and as the fractious external Syrian opposition has shown itself incapable of organising the armed resistance - divisions have appeared among the various groups fighting the Assad regime. Islamists, of the Al Qaeda trend, have favoured increasing sectarian attacks, while the moderate elements of the FSA have pushed back. Clashes between FSA and Al Qaeda fighters in Aleppo were reported yesterday.

Such infighting is to be expected. Money and weapons - although not of a quality or in sufficient quantity to alter the course of the campaign - have flowed to various factions and the scrabble for them has divided what ought to be a united opposition. It signals a breakdown of hope among the fighters. As the world has dithered in its response to the slaughter by the Assad regime, the clear path of the uprising has been obscured.

If the rebels felt they were making progress and had the support of the outside world, they would not descend to such wasteful infighting.