The National reports: Jabhat Al Nusra, the Sunni Islamist rebel group with links to Al Qaeda, has been quietly expanding its activities in southern Syria, working alongside western- and Arab-backed rebels in military operations aimed at ousting the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.
Al Nusra and other radical Islamist groups have dominated the anti-Assad insurgency in the north and east of Syria but until recently, they have been less numerous in Deraa and elsewhere in southern Syria.
While refraining from calling public attention to their activities, Al Nusra is now rising in the south. Its fighters have entered into secret, ad hoc and often uneasy alliances with units of the more moderate, western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).
“They offer their services and cooperate with us, they are better armed than we are, they have suicide bombers and know how to make car bombs,” an FSA fighter explained.
Many FSA commanders and secular opponents of Mr Al Assad and his regime refused to talk about Al Nusra, saying the group was irrelevant in Deraa, a tribal area with a tradition of moderate Islam. But others admitted that Al Nusra’s role in fighting in southern Syria is far greater than publicly acknowledged.
“The FSA and Al Nusra join together for operations but they have an agreement to let the FSA lead for public reasons, because they don’t want to frighten Jordan or the West,” said an activist who works with opposition groups in Deraa.
“Operations that were really carried out by Al Nusra are publicly presented by the FSA as their own,” he said.
A leading FSA commander involved in operations in Deraa said Al Nusra had strengthened FSA units and played a decisive role in key rebel victories in the south.
“The face of Al Nusra cannot be to the front. It must be behind the FSA, for the sake of Jordan and the international community,” he said. [Continue reading…]