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The formation of the group will likely be seen as a blow to the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, which oversees the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Fighters organizing the new faction said they hope brigades from across the ideological spectrum, including the FSA’s moderates, would join their new umbrella group.
The Army of Islam’s formation was announced on Sunday in the Damascus suburbs by the participating factions. It will bring together 50 brigades, including Liwa al-Islam, the most powerful and organized rebel force in Damascus province. Its former leader, a moderate Islamist named Mohammad Zahran Aloush, will head the new alliance.
“The core of its force” is located in the Damascus area, it but also includes brigades in Homs, Latakia, Deir Ezzor and Aleppo, said Maher Mahmoud, a fighter with Liwa al-Islam.
Captain Islam Aloush, the Army of Islam’s spokesman, told Syria Deeply that the group’s goal is unity among fractured rebel forces. The new coalition, he said, “will fight alongside all factions until Syria is liberated from the Assad regime,” with the “first step to unite all military forces on the ground.”
According to statements issued by Army of Islam commanders, their coalition aims to consolidate the rebels’ efforts in Damascus province. Its first task is to break the regime siege on eastern Ghouta, in order to bring supplies to the civilian population as winter draws near.
“The goal is to unite under one unified command and to avoid conflicts and side issues that hinder progress. I hope all the brigades in Syria will join under the banner of this army,” said Basel Marzoki, an FSA fighter and media activist in the southern Damascus suburb of Sayyida Zeinab.
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Meanwhile, FSA brigades in Aleppo province said they were planning a similar move to their counterparts in Damascus, discussing ways to unite.
“We’re working on implementing similar steps to unify rebel brigades on a national level,” said Abdel Karim Leila, the communications director of the FSA’s Tawheed brigade in Aleppo province.
Last week, rebel factions including Jabhat al-Nusra said they would not submit to the authority of the coalition, and FSA brigades in the northern province of Raqqa switched their allegiance to al-Nusra.
Across the country, many FSA battalions say they still fight autonomously and do not count on any support from the opposition or from the Supreme Military Council, led by General Salim Idris.
Syrian National Coalition chief Ahmed al-Jarba has not yet made any official statements about the Army of Islam. He has spoken in the past about the need for a “national” army that would “bring together all of the children of the Syrian revolution.” And now rebels on the ground want to do just that, under a flag of Islam.
Originally translated from Arabic by Naziha Baassiri.