The Wall Street Journal reports: Ali Othman is among a shrinking band of Syrian rebels in the mountains across from this border town who face an agonizing choice: accept a settlement with a regime they revile or fight alongside al Qaeda’s Islamist allies.
The Syrian army defector and his fellow fighters say they are weakened and cornered after enduring months of bombardment from Russian forces buttressing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Peace talks ended last month without progress amid a major escalation in violence in the northern city of Aleppo. On Thursday, a day after the U.S. announced a deal with Russia on a fresh cease-fire in Aleppo, Islamist groups targeted regime-held areas of the city with rocket, mortar and sniper fire, according to Syrian state media and U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“My wife begs me almost each day to leave the mountains,” Mr. Othman, 26 years old, said during a recent visit with his family in Turkey. “She keeps asking me: `Why are you still fighting?’”
The fate of Syria’s moderate rebels is critical to American efforts in the region. If rebels quit the fight or join forces with Islamist extremist groups fighting the regime, the U.S. will lose leverage to shape the war’s outcome — and potential allies against Islamic State.
Some rebel commanders close to the U.S. warn that the diplomatic deadlock and renewed airstrikes against rebel-held areas would push people into the arms of the extremists, including Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate that, like Islamic State, is designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council and excluded from any potential settlement with the regime. [Continue reading…]