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Tensions between al-Qaeda’s two branches fighting in Syria – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front – are reaching a breaking point, despite efforts to resolve the dispute from the organization’s international leadership.
Despite their best attempts to keep the ongoing dispute between ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his Nusra counterpart, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, contained at the leadership level, al-Qaeda’s internal war in Syria is increasingly becoming public.
The disagreement between the two leaders first emerged when Baghdadi declared the formation of a single organization under his leadership that would cover both Iraq and Syria.
Nusra’s Golani, who was initially sent to Syria by the ISIS after the outbreak of the uprising, refused on technical grounds, saying that Baghdadi had not consulted al-Qaeda’s leadership before taking such a step, which he described as poorly timed and unsound.
This prompted al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri to intervene, sending a message to the two groups that was aired on al-Jazeera on June 9, ordering them to maintain their organization as they are and delay the issue of integration until a later time. Zawahiri’s message blamed both leaders, accusing each of committing mistakes that led to the discord.
In a telling development, a video was posted on the Internet showing the recent suicide bombing at Meneg Military Airport in Aleppo, with ISIS claiming responsibility. This suggests that despite Zawahiri’s intervention, Baghdadi is forging ahead with his plans to create a single jihadi organization under his control.
The mounting tensions, however, have not led to any kind of armed confrontations between the two groups, despite the fact that they fight alongside one another in a number of areas across the country. In opposition areas in the north, ISIS tends to dominate, while Nusra has a much stronger presence to the south.
Syrian rebels have pushed deep into the coastal Alawite stronghold for the first time, seizing a string of villages in a campaign which, locals have warned, threatens to open the area up to full-blown sectarian war.
"We are still finding people who were killed in their homes, and bodies left in bushes," said Sheikh Mohammed Reda Hatem, an Alawite religious leader in Latakia. "Until now 150 Alawites from the villages have been kidnapped. There are women and children among them. We have lost all contact with them."
After suffering a string of recent military defeats, in the central Syrian province of Homs, the rebels were looking to hit Assad "where it hurts most", opposition sources said.
At one point the fighting came within 12 miles of Mr Assad's ancestral village of Qardaha.
The offensive has pitted Islamist fighters against some of Mr Assad's most ardent supporters, including the Alawite-dominated National Defence Force.
ANKARA, TURKEY (Catholic Online) - Christians in Syria are under intense pressure to flee the country as fighters from both sides target them. Many are unwilling to side with Assad, but also feel increasingly threatened by jihadists which have bolstered the ranks of the Free Syrian Army.
The development isn't new, as Christians have been persecuted for some time amid the violence, but the intensity is becoming more pronounced as jihadists target Christians and their churches and shrines.
If Israel is the cradle of Christianity, Syria is its nursery. In the city of Damascus, followers of Jesus were for the first time referred to as Christians. Christians have a long presence in the state, which today hosts various Catholics including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, and other smaller sects.
Christians did not generally join the uprising against Assad, having enjoyed a measure of tolerance under his regime. This reluctance to war has made them suspect to rebels. However, Christians have suffered widely under the depredations and indiscriminant killings of Assad's regime. In response, Christians formed a brigade in the Free Syrian Army.
Despite this, they're still seen as targets, primarily by jihadists who want Syria to become an Islamist state. For the jihadists, mostly affiliated with al Qaeda, Christians are a barrier to creating that state.
Last night, Politico published an article by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on why it might not be a good idea for the U.S to arm rebels in Syria. In the article Paul argues that any weapons the U.S. sends to Assad's opposition could end up in the hands of Al Qaeda-linked rebels and that there are no obvious American interests in Syria.
One of the most interesting sections of Sen. Paul’s article is what he says about Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey:
Consider the recent reversal by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last year, Dempsey reportedly endorsed a proposal by then-CIA Director David Petraeus to arm vetted members of Syria’s rebel opposition but has since reconsidered his position. Now, Dempsey says he is unsure that the United States “could clearly identify the right people” to aid or arm in Syria. “It’s actually more confusing on the opposition side today than it was six months ago,” Dempsey testified in April.