New front opens in Syria as rebels say al Qaeda attack means war.
Syrian rebels said on Friday the assassination of one of their top commanders by al Qaeda-linked militants was tantamount to a declaration of war, opening a new front for the Western-backed fighters struggling against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Rivalries have been growing between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Islamists, whose smaller but more effective forces control most of the rebel-held parts of northern Syria more than two years after pro-democracy protests became an uprising.
“We will not let them get away with it because they want to target us,” a senior FSA commander said on condition of anonymity after members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant killed Kamal Hamami on Thursday.
“We are going to wipe the floor with them,” he said.
Hamami, also known by his nom de guerre, Abu Bassir al-Ladkani, is one of the top 30 figures on the FSA’s Supreme Military Command.
Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they prepare themselves prior to an offensive again …
His killing highlights how the West’s vision of a future, democratic Syria is unraveling.
Assad appeared close to defeat a year ago when rebels killed top officials in a bomb attack and pushed deep into Damascus. Now, with military and financial support from Russia and Iran, he has pushed the rebels back to the outskirts of the capital and put them on the defensive in the south while radical Islamists assert control over the north.
The FSA commander said the al Qaeda-linked militants had warned FSA rebels that there was “no place” for them where Hamami was killed in Latakia province, a northern rural region of Syria bordering Turkey where Islamist groups are powerful.
Other opposition sources said the killing followed a dispute between Hamami’s forces and the Islamic State over control of a strategic checkpoint in Latakia and would lead to fighting.
VACUUM OF POWER
The two sides have previously fought together from time to time, but the Western and Arab-backed FSA, desperate for greater firepower, has recently tried to distance itself to allay U.S. fears any arms it might supply could reach al Qaeda.
A view shows damaged buildings in the besieged area of Homs July 12, 2013. REUTERS/Yazan Homsy
Louay Mekdad, FSA Supreme Command Political Coordinator, said Abu Ayman al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s Emir of the coastal region, personally shot dead Hamami and his brother at the roadblock.
He said a fighter who was travelling with them was set free to rely the message that the Islamic State considers the FSA heretics and that the Supreme Command is now an al Qaeda target.