Nearly a dozen of the largest Syrian rebel groups, including one linked to Al Qaeda, have formed an Islamic alliance that could serve as the basis for a future political bloc and have denounced the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition.
The bloc explicitly called for sharia, or Islamic law, to be the sole source of legislation in Syria, which for decades has been governed with iron-fisted secularism by President Bashar Assad and his late father, Hafez.
The announcement makes public what many of the opposition militias have said in the past. They maintain that the exiled coalition leaders are out of touch with the deteriorating situation on the ground and do not represent those living and fighting in Syria.
“This force believes that those deserving of representing it are those who have lived its burdens and shared in its sacrifices of honest sons,” the statement read.
The statement came late Tuesday ahead of the arrival in Damascus on Wednesday of United Nations inspectors for a second time to investigate the use of chemical weapons.
The alliance includes groups aligned with the mainstream Free Syrian Army, Islamist groups which fight alongside them and the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which the Obama administration has labeled a terrorist organization. The Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has more foreign fighters and has increasingly fought against mainstream FSA groups, is not a signatory to the agreement, but its joining has not been ruled out.
“The main goal is to unify the fighting forces,” said Bashir Saleh, a spokesman with the Al Tawheed Brigade, one of the main organizers of the alliance.
Last week, the Islamic State and a smaller FSA group clashed in a northern town near the Turkish border. The hostilities were but one reason for the sudden formation of the alliance, Saleh said.
Saleh said the announcement also came as many Syrians still in their homeland pressed opposition leaders outside the country to not attend international peace talks in Geneva that will include government representatives. A political solution must come from inside Syria and not orchestrated by the international community, he said.
“The problem is the coalition is outside and it doesn’t know what is happening inside,” Saleh said. “Maybe one or two or three of the coalition members have come and entered Syria but then they leave quickly like they are foreign visitors.”