December 9, 2013
Toppling the Syrian regime comes first, activists say, with political scores to be settled later.
By Syria Direct news staff
AMMAN: Two weeks after the emergence of the Islamic Front, the alliance made their first decisive move over the weekend defending a Free Syrian Army (FSA) headquarters and ammunition warehouse from Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) fighters a border crossing into Turkey.
While the move leaves little doubt over the military capabilities of the Islamic Front, less certain is the political agenda of the alliance, which merged seven of the most powerful and predominantly Salafist-leaning opposition factions in Syria.
The Front has said it will work to both bring down the Syrian regime and for the establishment of an Islamic state, a political program that was announced alongside the merger earlier this month.
The formation of the front, which denounces any other opposition not operating under principles of sharia law as “illegal,” has prompted a new wave of fears amongst US and European powers over the rise of Islamist groups in the Syrian opposition.
The Islamic Front’s leaders. Photo courtesy of Enab-Baladi
Yet moderate and secular Syrians in the opposition say the Front’s hardline agenda is secondary to their primary goal of bringing down the Assad regime.
“We don’t mind if they have a political goal as long as it accounts for Syrians’ hopes and public opinion,” said Nadim Ganoum, member of the Syrian Democratic Union. “We support anyone fighting the regime,” Ganoum added.
Syria before the revolution was a Muslim country, even if the leadership was not Sunni, says Ali Amin al-Sweed, 45, a member of the General Authority of the Syrian Revolution (GASR), a media organization that aims to provide reliable and independent information about the war.
Whether Syrians will accept Salafist-style rule is not yet clear, al-Sweed says, it will not be decided until the government falls. “It is not the right time to decide because we are still fighting the regime.”
Susan Ahmad, 27, an activist from Damascus, says that if the hardline alliance can topple the Syrian regime, their political ambitions are, for now, irrelevant.
“What people care about is results,” said Ahmed. “Let them work to stop shelling cities and get rid of the tyrant,” she said. “Even those armed with such [Salafist] ambitions will never oppress us again.”
The Islamic Front joined some of the largest Islamist rebel groups of the Free Syrian Army with more extremist factions, creating an Islamist alliance independent of Jabhat a-Nusra and ISIS. The Front says it is a “military, political, social and Islamic entity aiming to take down the Assad regime and start an Islamic state,” basing its founding principles on the Quran.
Despite militarily supporting the FSA’s post at the Bab al-Howa border crossing over the weekend, the Islamic Front, which does not count ISIS in its alliance, is still distancing itself from the more secular, nationalist armed opposition, announcing their withdrawal from the FSA’s Supreme Military Council on December 3rd.
The group also adamantly opposes negotiations with the regime. “Geneva II is a series of plots to circumvent the revolution,” it said in its merger announcement, adding that it takes the position of negotiations with the regime as “trading on the blood of our martyrs as well as a betrayal.”
Despite claiming that foreign fighters in Syria “are our brothers who have stood beside us and we appreciate and thank them for their jihad” in the Islamic Front’s founding statement, the incident at the Bab al-Howa border crossing on Saturday suggests growing tensions between the primarily Syrian Islamic Front and ISIS.
“A faction [of the ISIS] launched an attack on the Joint Chiefs of Staff [FSA] and they requested support from us, so we helped them,” Zahran Alloush, the Islamic Front’s military commander, told the pro-opposition website All4Syria.
The FSA confirmed this in a statement released on Sunday. “There was an attack by an armed gang and we sought help from some of the existing factions in the area, including the Islamic Front, and we thank their response to our call,” the FSA said.
Whatever debts the FSA may owe the Islamic Front, activists say the protracted battle with the regime will ultimately prevent the Syrian people from accepting any form of authoritarian government in the future.
“Extremists know that there will be no space for them here,” said Ahmed, the Damascus-based activist.
“I believe that the final decision will be in the Syrian people’s hands,” said al-Sweed.