World Bulletin / News Desk
Assad's security crackdown transformed Syria's largely peaceful protest movement in March 2011 into an armed insurgency in the first year of the revolt, and since then opposition formations have been increasingly overtaken by rebel groups.
As new leaders have emerged within the opposition, infighting intensified and reached a new level this month, with several rebel factions declaring war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Below is a description of some of Syria's main rebel groups:
An amalgam of six major rebel groups, this alliance is believed to be the biggest rebel army working in Syria.
Its formation last November gutted the Western-backed Syrian Military Council, depriving it of some of its main members, such as the Tawheed Brigade, and further distanced it from powerful Islamist groups like the Ahrar al-Sham Brigades.
The Islamic Front's members are Islamists who want Syria to become an Islamic state, but they have been more tolerant of other groups than the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Analysts say the number of fighters brought together by the Front is between 40,000 to 50,000. It is still not clear, however, whether it will be more successful in coordinating and leading Syria's notoriously fractious rebel groups compared to the failed moderate opposition alliances.
The Islamic Front has not formally declared war on ISIL and its attitude towards the group is still ambiguous, but many of its leading factions are participating in the attack on ISIL.
Syrian Revolutionaries Front:
This alliance of largely non-ideological rebel units was formed in December and helped launch a growing campaign against ISIL fighters.
The backbone of the group is the Syrian Martyrs Brigade, a once powerful group from the northern province ofIdlib led by Jamal Maarouf. Maarouf and his fighters were largely discredited in Idlib by rival Islamist groups who accused them of diverting funds meant for the front lines into their own pockets.
Unlike most other rebel formations, the group does not appear to have strong ideological leanings, though its units are mostly moderate Islamists.
The SRF is believed to receive funding from large Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, given that Riyadh was said to be Maarouf's main financier. It has poor relations with the Islamic Front but has expressed support for the Western and Gulf-backed Supreme Military Command (SMC), the foundering successor to the leadership of the failed Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The FSA was the original umbrella group for the rebels but was never able to form a coherent organisational structure or leadership and the SMC has faced similar challenges.
This recent formation of eight Syrian groups was announced early in January and almost immediately launched a campaign against ISIL, leading many observers to believe it may have been formed by Gulf Arab backers for the purpose of challenging ISIL.
Most of the factions that joined the Mujahideen Army are relatively minor and little is known about the group so far.
This powerful rebel group is comprised of both Syrians and foreigners and has been formally recognised by the central leadership of al Qaeda as its franchise in Syria.
The group was one of the first to use techniques such as suicide attacks and car bombings in urban areas.
Nusra Front, estimated at around 7,000 to 8,000 members, has worked with most rebel factions fighting in Syria calls for the creation of an Islamic state.
It is not formally a part of the Islamic Front but it works closely with many member groups. Some of its units have joined in recent rebel-on-rebel battles against ISIL but it has not officially declared war on the group.
The Nusra Front's leader, known as Abu Mohammed al-Golani, has called for a ceasefire between ISIL and other rebel groups but the move has done little to slow the fighting.
Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant:
ISIL was formed by breakaway elements from the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's official affiliate in Syria, who joined with al Qaeda's Iraq branch.
The group is headed by the Iraq branch's leader, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He has ignored calls from al Qaeda central to stay out of Syria and focus on Iraq.
While its numbers may be smaller, perhaps around 6,000 to 7,000.
The group has vowed to use assassinations and other strategies to retaliate against attacks. In a Jan. 7 statement, it vowed to crush the Syrian rebels and made no gestures toward reconciliation despite Nusra calls for a truce.
Supreme Military Command
Many of its commanders spent much of their time outside the country. They were also unable to secure consistent supplies of arms or funding from foreign donors.
While still functioning nominally, the SMC was dealt a heavy blow by the formation of the Islamic Front in November 2013, which deprived it of some of its largest members and allies and further damaged the SMC's legitimacy.Last Mod: 09 Ocak 2014, 17:55