Syria’s Rebels Split on Nusra’s Public Split From al-Qaeda

US-Backed Rebels Seen Largely Supportive of Nusra

by Jason Ditz, August 01, 2016

Less than a week after rebranding, as a way to remove their long-standing status as al-Qaeda’s formal Syria affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, now calling itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, is seeing a mostly positive reaction among rebel groups to its shift in status, with several groups believing the loss of the al-Qaeda brand allows them to cooperate even more closely.

US-backed rebel groups like the Nour al-Din al-Zenki have been quick to get on the Nusra bandwagon, teaming up with the Islamist group to launch joint operations in and around Aleppo, again apparently freed up to do so with less concern for a backlash because of the rebranding.

Ironically, the groups least receptive to the change are the groups that are closest ideologically to Nusra and al-Qaeda, with groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam both saying the rebranding didn’t mean much, and that they want to see changes in the group’s behavior, not just in its name.

This could simply reflect the fear that the two rival Islamist groups, both substantially backed by Saudi Arabia, could find themselves taking a back seat to Nusra as an ideologically comparable group with a lot more territory and better prospects.

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