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Syrian army rocket launchers fire near the village of Morek in Hama province, Oct. 7, 2015 (AP photo by Alexander Kots).

The End of the Army of Conquest? Syrian Rebel Alliance Shows Cracks

Monday, Nov. 9, 2015

Syria’s most successful rebel alliance may have just barely avoided breaking apart. Over the spring and summer of this year, the coalition of Islamist rebel groups known as Jaish al-Fateh, or the Army of Conquest, scored a series of dramatic victories over the regime of Bashar al-Assad in northwest Syria. But in the past several weeks, just as Jaish al-Fateh announced a major new offensive, one of its most hard-line factions, Jund al-Aqsa, very publicly quit the coalition. The acrimony that has followed the withdrawal of Jund al-Aqsa—an ultra-extreme splinter of al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra—has exposed the persistent and probably unresolvable divisions among Syria’s rebels. And the announcement from rebel corners last week that Jund al-Aqsa may rejoin Jaish al-Fateh does not mean these divisions are going away.

Northern rebels formed the Jaish al-Fateh operations rooms, a kind of coordination cell, in March 2015 with the aim of capturing the city of Idlib, the capital of Syria’s northwest Idlib province. The coalition centers on Jabhat al-Nusra and the Salafist rebels in Ahrar al-Sham, but it also includes five smaller factions that range from less ideological brigades to Jund al-Aqsa. Thanks in part to newly coordinated and generous backing from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, Jaish al-Fateh was able to not only take Idlib in days last spring, but also overrun a series of key regime military bases and almost entirely drive the regime from the province. In weeks, Jaish al-Fateh had made enough headway that it posed a real threat to the regime’s strongholds in central and coastal Syria. ...

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