Reuters reports: Rebel fighter Mustafa and his trio of burly men look out of place at a trendy Turkish cafe near the Syrian border, dressed in tattered jeans and silently puffing on cigarettes as they scoop into tall ice-cream sundaes.
Their battleground is across the frontier in Syria, where they are fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad. But like many rebels in northern Syria, they are so desperate for weapons and money, they are searching for new donors in Turkey.
“When it comes to getting weapons, every group knows they are on their own,” says the 25-year-old with a patchy beard. “It’s a fight for resources.”
Nominally Mustafa’s rebels fight for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), but the FSA, lacking international recognition or direct state funding, is a often just a convenient label for a host of local armed groups competing fiercely for scarce financing.
So fiercely, they sometimes turn their guns on each other.
“Everyone needs weapons. There is tension. There is anger and yes, sometimes there is fighting if rebels in one town seem to have an unfair share of weapons,” said Mustafa, who comes from Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, which borders Turkey and has been a hotbed of resistance to Assad.
Such mistrust is compounded by the competing agendas of outside parties who are further fragmenting the rebel movement.
Finding a donor usually means using personal connections, rebels say. They get relatives or expatriate friends to put them in touch with businessmen or Syrian groups abroad.
But once fighters go to private donors for weapons, they have to negotiate, and the price may be ideological.
Many say Islamist groups, from hard-line Salafists to the exiled Muslim Brotherhood, bankroll many battalions that share their religious outlook. The Brotherhood has representatives in Antakya ready to meet interested rebels, fighters say.
Leftist politicians and other opponents of Islamists are trying to counter that influence by funding rival armed bands.
“These groups are all making their own militias, like they are some kind of warlords. This is dividing people,” said one activist who asked not to be named. “They aren’t thinking about military strategies, they are thinking about politics.”