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The Syrian Civil War
Al Qaeda Routs U.S.-Backed Rebels in Syria

Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra, attacked a U.S.-backed rebel group this weekend, slaughtering dozens, scattering hundreds, and seizing advanced TOW missiles provided by the United States. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The attack by Nusra Front began Saturday and ended Sunday, a day before the United Nations-brokered talks between the regime and an opposition delegation were to get under way in Geneva.

Nearly 100 rebel groups have signed on to a two-week-old truce in Syria, including 13th Division, the rebel faction that suffered the losses. Nusra Front and Islamic State are excluded from the truce.

Members of the opposition saw the move as an attempt by Nusra to undermine them, and said they feared that Nusra getting stronger at their expense could be used by the regime and its allies as an excuse to step up attacks on rebel-held areas under the guise of combating terrorism.[..]

The fighting was centered in and around the city of Maaret al-Numan in the northwestern province of Idlib. Nusra accused 13th Division members of initiating the aggression by attacking its members in the city. Members of 13th Division and residents denied the claim.

“Nusra feels the groups that have agreed to the cease-fire betrayed it and sided with the infidels against it,” said Ahmed Alwan, a senior cleric in Maaret al-Numan.

The lack of support from the U.S.—or from other Syrian rebel groups—for Division 13 is noteworthy: being backed by the U.S., it will seem to many in Syria, puts a target on your back but brings you no help in time of greatest need.

While the U.S., Russia, and other interested parties meet in Geneva today to negotiate, the ceasefire grinds on—and as it does so, only two groups seem to be gaining strength: the Assad regime, and the hardcore Islamists. That probably suits Putin, Assad, and the Mullahs just fine.

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