How Jabhat al-Nusra is taking over Syria’s revolution

The Telegraph reports: Aleppo has been plunged into despair. Riven with war, life in Syria’s most populous city has become a dog-eat-dog existence: a battle for survival in a place where the strong devour the weak.

Its luxuriant history is lost beneath uncollected litter on its pavements and streets. Feral children play beside buildings shattered by shelling and air strikes. There is no electricity, no heating; gunmen prowl the streets as night falls. Some are rebels searching for government loyalists; others are criminals looking to kidnap for ransom. Looting is rife.

It is here, behind the front lines of the war against Bashar al-Assad that a new struggle is emerging. It is a clash of ideologies: a competition where rebel brigades vie to determine the shape of post-Assad Syria.

And in recent weeks it is Jabhat al-Nusra, a radical jihadist group blacklisted by the US as terrorists and a group that wants Syria to be an uncompromising Islamic state governed by sharia, that is holding sway.

The group is well funded – probably through established global jihadist networks – in comparison to moderates. Meanwhile pro-democracy rebel group commanders say money from foreign governments has all but dried up because of fears over radical Islamists.

The effect is changing the face of the Syrian revolution.

The Nusra Front is known for some of the bravest fighters on the front lines. But the fundamentalist movement is now focusing on highly effective humanitarian programs that are quickly winning the loyalty of Aleppo’s residents.

Imbued with discipline borne of religious dogmatism it is catering to basic needs in a city that lacks everything from working factories to courts.

Chief among hardships was the languishing supply of bread. It is a staple in Syria – without it tens of thousands of the poor would starve.

When rebel fighters seized control of the grain stores around the city, the supply of flour all but ceased. Locals accused rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) of raiding the stores and stealing the grain to sell. Spontaneous pro-government protests erupted outside bakeries where families queued for bread, sometimes for days.

One started within seconds of the Daily Telegraph’s arrival at a bread queue: “Allah, Syria, Bashar! Everyone here loves Bashar al-Assad!” they screamed.

Then, in the past weeks, Jabhat al-Nusra – which is outside the FSA – pushed other rebel groups out of the stores and established a system to distribute bread throughout rebel areas.

In a small office attached to a bakery in the Miesseh district of Aleppo, Abu Yayha studied a map pinned on the wall. Numbers were scrawled in pencil against streets.

“We counted the population of every street to assess the need for the area,” explained Mr Yahya. “We provide 23,593 bags of bread every two days for this area. This is just in one district. We are calculating the population in other districts and doing the same there.

“In shops the cost is now 125 Syrian pounds (£1.12) for one pack. Here we sell it at 50 Syrian pounds (45p) for two bags. We distribute some for free for those who cannot pay.” [Continue reading…]

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