Islamist factions unite in Syria

A leading prelate in Syria has called on “foreign forces” to end their support for Islamist fighters in Syria who have banded together with the aim of creating an Islamic state there.

Gregorios III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch of the Greek Melkite Church issued his call last weekend following the announcement that seven Islamistrebel groups have agreed to work together both to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al Assad and to form a state based solely on sharia law.

In a statement to the Fides news agency, Patriarch Laham warned: “These groups, even when they divide and fight with one another, they respond to the same logic. Logic that has nothing to do with democracy and freedom.”

In a message to powers who have been offering material aid to the various rebel groups in their battle to overthrow the Syrian regime, the patriarch added his plea that “foreign forces must stop supporting and arming them from the outside if one really wants negotiations in Geneva II to bring positive results for the future of the Syrian people.”

The new entity formed by the seven Islamist groups has called itself the Islamic Front, and is now the biggest single rebel body in the conflict. It is reported to comprise at least 45,000 fighters, many of them foreign jihadists.

The Geneva II talks, set for January 22, were finally confirmed this week and will see representatives of President al Assad meet with rebels in Switzerland towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict which has raged since March 2011. As The Irish Catholic went to press this week, the proposed rebel participants had not been confirmed, but it is likely the new Islamist grouping will reject a place at the negotiating table as some of its constituent factions have previously condemned any suggestion of talks with the al Assad administration.