'We don't have long,' say Syrian rebels locked in battle with Al Qaeda, Assad

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Published January 17, 2014

| FoxNews.com

Syrian rebels “don’t have long” as they face not only the army of President Bashar al-Assad, but fierce attacks from the Al Qaeda fighters who once battled alongside them, an opposition leader told FoxNews.com.

In recent days, the rebels have killed five top Al Qaeda leaders in eastern Syria, said Oubai Shahbandar, Turkey-based spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition. He said taking on Al Qaeda, which is believed to be seeking to topple Assad not to bring about democracy, but to establish a base for terror operations, is stretching the Free Syrian Army to the breaking point.

“We are at a critical juncture where the Free Syrian Army has declared war on Al Qaeda [and] Al Qaeda has responded with a savage counter-attack,” Shahbandar said in a phone interview.

Shahbandar called on the West to provide military aid to the Free Syrian Army, and said time is running out. Assad’s forces are working with the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, giving the Free Syrian Army a wide spectrum of seasoned soldiers and militant jihadists to contend with.

Al Qaeda forces are also battling on multiple fronts, having turned on the rebels yet still engaging Assad loyalists. The terrorist group has hijacked the original opposition fight against Assad and appears determined to wipe out any moderate Syrian opposition, extending radical Islam into a key new territory.

In the nearly three years since the Syrian civil war broke out, more than 120,000 people, many of them innocent civilians, have been killed. The West, which has backed the effort to oust Assad, has been unable to craft a consistent aid strategy, largely due to the shifting alliances.

Having appeared to be on the brink of intervening on behalf of the FSA last September, President Obama backed down from attacking the Assad forces in a move generally interpreted as a sign of weakness by many in the region. The president and his advisors instead determined that ridding the Assad regime of chemical weapons was more important.

While the chemical threat has for the most part been removed, Syria has remained a bloody killing field with no end in sight to the death and destruction, or to the ongoing destabilization of a pivotal country in the Middle East.

Appealing to the U.S. for arms to help the FSA, an alliance of as many as a dozen different groups that includes the Syrian Revolutionary Front, Shahbandar said weapons in his group’s hands can save innocent lives.

“The regime and Hezbollah are simultaneously launching an attack in the north and attempting to encircle Aleppo [while] intensifying its starvation campaign, as well,” Shahbandar said. “We have three major cities in Syria facing total siege...and dozens of documented cases by the UN of people dying of starvation because the regime refuses to let aid into those besieged areas.

“We are at a critical juncture,” he said. “We don’t have long.”

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who can be followed on twitter @paul_alster and at www.paulalster.com

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http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/01/17/dont-have-long-say-syrian-rebels-locked-in-battle-with-al-qaeda-assad/