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SHOULD WE SUPPORT REBELS? Study says most Syrian rebels are hardline Muslim

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 17th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While U.S. Military intervention in Syria has appears to have cooled down at the present time, there are growing concerns that showing support for opposition forces in that country could wind up backfiring. According to a recent report from IHS Jane, a defense consultancy, many of those battling the Bashar al-Assad regime are hardline Muslim - with little connection to the U.S. And its western allies.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) -  According to the report, forces battling the Assad regime in Syria now number around 100,000 fighters. After more than two years of fighting they are fragmented into as many as 1,000 bands. The study has found that there are around 10,000 jihadists, fighting for powerful factions linked to AL-Qaeda.

Another 30,000 to 35,000 are hardline Islamists who share much of the outlook of the jihadists. These factions are more concerned with defeating the Bashar regime in lieu of wider, international concerns. 

In addition, there are also at least a further 30,000 moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character. Therefore, only a small minority of the rebels are linked to secular or purely nationalist groups.

Western diplomats estimate that less than one third of the opposition forces are "palatable" to the United Kingdom. American envoys put the figure even lower.

Among all other concerns is the very real fear that the rebellion against the Assad regime is being increasingly dominated by extremists. The west's support for these groups could in effect give weaponry that would later fall into hostile hands. These fears contributed to unease in the U.S. and elsewhere over military intervention in Syria.

"The insurgency is now dominated by groups which have at least an Islamist viewpoint on the conflict. The idea that it is mostly secular groups leading the opposition is just not borne out," Charles Lister, author of the analysis, said.

Based on intelligence estimates along with interviews with activists and militants, the report contends that the fighting has seen the emergence of hundreds of separate rebel bands, each operating in small pockets of the country, which are usually loyal to larger factions.

Two factions linked to Al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - also know as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) - have come to dominate among the more extremist fighters, Lister says. Their influence among the rebel factions has only grown over the past year.

"Because of the Islamist make up of such a large proportion of the opposition, the fear is that if the West doesn't play its cards right, it will end up pushing these people away from the people we are backing," he said. "If the West looks as though it is not interested in removing Assad, moderate Islamists are also likely to be pushed further towards extremists."

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