Islamist rebel factions in Syria have long been at odds with one another, and the sheer number of inconsequentially small factions with minor ideological differences has become a running joke. Suddenly, however, we’re starting to see unity.
Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra, having swept through the pro-US factions pretty decisively earlier this year, has gained the support of myriad smaller factions, and using this newfound unity to amass gains in the northwest, seizing most of the Idlib Province.
This has provided Nusra its first serious territorial possession of the civil war, and they’re not stopping there, with fighters pouring into the neighboring Latakia Province, aiming to seize the valuable Mediterranean coast, the heartland of Syria’s Alawite minority.
Assad being an Alawite has meant the Shi’ite faction is even more targeted than usual by Sunni Islamist groups, and the latest push threatens to send even more of them fleeing to metro Damascus, the last part of the country where the government’s control is more or less uncontested.