BEIRUT — Syria’s increasingly powerful Islamist rebel factions rejected the country’s new Western-backed opposition coalition and unilaterally declared an Islamic state in the key battleground of Aleppo, a sign of the seemingly intractable splits among those fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
The move highlights the struggle over the direction of the rebellion at a time when the opposition is trying to gain the West’s trust and secure a flow of weapons to fight the regime. The rising profile of the extremist faction among the rebels could doom those efforts.
The Islamists’ announcement, made in an online video released Sunday, shows the competing influences within the rebellion, between religious hard-liners who want to create an Islamic state in Syria — including foreign al-Qaida-style jihadi fighters — and the newly formed Syrian National Coalition, which was created earlier this month in hopes of uniting the disparate groups fighting Assad’s regime.
The National Coalition was formed under pressure from the United States, which sought a more reliable partner that nations could support. Key to its credibility is whether it can ensure the support of the multiple, highly independent rebel brigades battling on the ground across the country within Syria, which largely ignored the previous opposition political leadership, made up of exiles.
In the new video, 13 Islamic radical factions denounced the coalition as a foreign creation.