BEIRUT: The head of the key Syrian opposition National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, has denounced extremists he said were trying to “steal our revolution,” and blamed the regime for supporting them.
He made the comments in an address in New York to representatives from the Friends of Syria – international backers of the rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
“The Syrian people support peace and moderation, tolerance and coexistence,” Jarba said.
“The phenomenon of extremism appeared with the support and planning of the regime, which has gambled on the transformation of a revolution for freedom into a civil and sectarian war,” he added.
The Syrian regime “created and armed numerous terrorist organizations and left them a place in the regions from which it has been removed,” he said.
“Other groups have come across the borders to steal our revolution.”
An unknown number of foreign fighters has streamed into Syria to join jihadist rebel groups such as the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
They include fighters from Europe, the Middle East and Chechnya.
Rebels initially welcomed the jihadist groups and the foreign fighters who joined them, eager for weapons and battle experience.
But in recent months, relations have been tense, particularly between ISIS and non-jihadist rebel factions, which have clashed on occasion.
This week, some of the biggest non-jihadist battalions formed an alliance that includes Nusra, and announced their rejection of the Coalition that Jarba heads.
A video released Friday, suggested more rebel factions had broken with the Council, bringing the total to more than 30 groups. The statement, read online by rebel officer Ammar al-Wawi cited the “catastrophic failure” of the Syrian National Coalition and its military wing. It said the groups’ withdrawal of support was precipitated by the foreign-based leadership’s “marginalization ... from the revolutionary force operating on the ground” but did not specifically mention Islamic law.
Jarba told the meeting, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, that extremism “has increased because of the indifference of the international community, which has failed in its duties to the Syrian people.”
Despite setbacks, Jarba insisted that the only solution to the conflict would be Assad’s departure.
“There is no horizon for the Syrians before the fall of the regime,” he said.