Syria: new rebel alliance in besieged Aleppo

Reports from Syria say at least 45 were killed and up to 175 wounded in government air-raids on rebel-controlled areas of Bab and Qabaseen outisde Aleppo Dec. 26, with the regime again using deadly "barrel bombs"—steel drums full of shrapnel and explosives. Syrian state media said it repulsed "terror attacks," hitting jiihadists—but giving no details of civilian casualties. Government forces also intensified their attack on opposition-controlled areas of Damascus, carrying out more than 85 air-strikes on several points in the Ghouta suburb over the last four days. (ANA Press, Dec. 27; Euronews, Dec. 26)

Rebel groups in Aleppo governorate meanwhile formed a new alliance called the Shamiyya Front, including factions from the Islamic Front, the Mujahideen Army, the Noureddin al-Zinki Brigades and other groups. This seems to represent a further consolidation of "moderate" Islamist factions ahead of peace talks with the Damascus regime tentatively to begin in Msocow later this month. (Al Arabiya, Dec. 26)

  1. Secular Southern Front in Syria?

    Foreign Policy reports Dec. 29 that a coalition of secular and nationalist rebels known as the Southern Front has been in control of territory for several months in Syria's Daraa governorate, bringing together some 50 armed groups that seek a "third way," opposed to both Assad and the Islamists. The report admits it has "co-opted and forged tactical alliances" with the Nusra Front," but also asserts it is "holding the military and ideological line" against Nusra and ISIS, while "fighting off the advances of the Assad regime and its auxiliary forces." Several of the most powerful rebel groups in southern Syria are said to be active members of the coalition—such as Liwa al-Yarmouk, led by the charismatic commander Bashar al-Zoubi; and Liwa Fallujah Hawran. Since late 2013 some of these factions have reportedly begun to receive more substantial training and weaponry from Western and Arab countries.