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Reminder: The Actually Moderate Syria Rebels Have Re-Joined Assad

Or are mulling doing so

Obama is alleging that Russians are pounding "moderate rebels" because they're hitting the likes of Bin Ladenite al-Nusra Front. In reality while there once were reasonably non-crazy rebels they've overwhelmingly since gone over to the crazies or have switched their allegiance back to the government.

Fact is Assad is far closer to any real moderates than the Bin Ladenite salafis -- those who are still around can be expected to defect and ally with Assad if the tide of war changes and they can do so without getting their head chopped off by ISIS and fellow travelers. Here are a few reminders from earlier this year:

By Rare, April 2015

Moderate Syrian rebels are switching their allegiance—to Assad

“Moderate” Muslims in Syria, both those aligned with the secular Assad regime and rebel groups backed by Western governments, suffered terrible blows in the month of March.

With international attention shifting from Assad to ISIS, support for the moderate rebels is waning. As the Syrian civil war continues into its fourth year, hopes for a secular democracy in Syria seem all but extinguished.

The moderate rebels’ decline started when Harakat Hazzm, the first Syrian rebel group to receive heavy weapons support from the U.S., dissolved. After it suffered heavy casualties, many Harakat Hazzm fighters defected to extremist groups like al Nusra, al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria.

Then just days later, two more contingents of the Free Syrian Army abandoned the rebellion and joined with the government. The al Anfai and Liwaa Hateen Brigade both defected while fighting government forces in the suburbs of Damascus. The head of al Anfai left amongst rebel infighting, as have several thousand other rebels, hoping to gain amnesty from the Assad regime.

This is a blow to Western governments, which focused their energies on arming rebel groups in the south instead of the north. Many northern Syrian rebels have close ties to extremist organizations, and the defections show that the momentum for ousting Assad in the south is faltering as well.

By February 2015:

Ex-Rebels Form Pro-Assad Militia, Battle Islamists Around Damascus

The Islamist rebel factions that still hold key districts on the outskirts of Damascus are facing a new enemy from an unlikely source: former rebels who have formed a pro-Assad militia.

Dubbed the Jaish al-Wafaa, or “Loyalists’ Army,” the group has been around for a few months, according to officials familiar with them, but has only gotten active very recently, with a weekend attack on the suburb of Douma amounting to some of their heaviest fighting yet.

The Islamist rebels in Douma have fought the military to a stalemate for over a year, but this new Loyalists’ Army includes a lot of their former allies, who have decided to change sides, and have considerable insight in these groups that the military lacks.

Many of the fighters are even from Douma originally, and switched sides with an eye on helping their families evacuate into safer, government-held portions of the capital.

It’s not entirely a cynical change, however, as many say that the Islamist leader of Jaish al-Islam, the Islamic Front wing in charge of Douma, has been extremely abusive to locals.

Ironically, the Islamic Front is seen as one of the more moderate Islamist factions, compared to the likes of ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra. Here in the capital, it seems, they’ve had their fill even of so-called moderates, and are deciding the rebellion, which is now almost exclusively led by Islamist factions, has gotten terrifyingly off-track.

By The Wall Street Journal, April 2015:

Syrian Rebel Group Now Fights Militants, Not Assad

A Palestinian rebel group battling to push President Bashar al-Assad from power faced a stark choice this month after Islamic State fighters stormed their neighborhood on the outskirts of Syria’s capital: side with the brutal extremists or with the regime.

For more than two years, Mr. Assad’s forces have blockaded and bombed Yarmouk, a refugee camp for Palestinians who fled to Syria after the establishment of Israel in 1948. Then earlier this month, Islamic State forces swept in from an adjacent district and seized control of most of the United Nations-administered camp, inching closer to the heart of Damascus.

Offered the choice to surrender to the fighters of Islamic State, also known as ISIS, Palestinian insurgents belonging to the group Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis opted for what they viewed as the lesser of two evils: They joined the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other pro-government Palestinian factions to help expel Islamic State from Yarmouk, PFLP spokesman Saeed Ziad said.

Although only a few dozen Aknaf fighters have changed sides, their about-face represents a symbolic victory for Mr. Assad in a four-year war that has left some 220,000 people dead and driven more than 11.5 million people—half of the country’s population—from their homes, according to the U.N. His government has sought at home and abroad to depict its attempt to suppress Islamic State as a choice between the peril posed by the group and the stability only the government can provide.

Assad Abdul Rahman, an official for the Palestine Liberation Organization, the main umbrella group for Palestinian political factions world-wide, confirmed that a few dozen Aknaf fighters had joined forces with the pro-Assad PFLP. Their decision, he said, was a tacit endorsement of the government.

“Even taking sides against ISIS means supporting the regime,” said Mr. Rahman, who monitors Palestinian refugee affairs in the region.

Like many other antigovernment rebel groups in Syria, Aknaf is opposed to Islamic State’s establishment of a caliphate straddling territory in Syria and Iraq. After the radical group entered Yarmouk, Aknaf fighters refused to pledge allegiance to it, fearing that surrender would lead to their being slain. But the Palestinian rebels needed allies to survive, an Aknaf spokesman explained.

“Our choices were difficult,” said Ameer Al-Shame. “Either ISIS would cut off all our heads, or we would have to accept the involvement” of Palestinian groups supported by the regime.

While Palestinian by ancestry, most members of Palestinian armed groups in Syria were born in the country and have spent their entire lives there. Many of these groups have remained allies of Mr. Assad because of his support for Palestinian statehood.

Aknaf, however, took up arms against the Syrian leader for the same reason many Syrians have: to change the government.

Mr. Shame said Aknaf’s newfound cooperation with its onetime enemy was limited to supplies of food and ammunition delivered through PLO channels, apparently contradicting the umbrella group’s announcement last week that it wouldn’t be drawn into any military effort to expel Islamic State from Yarmouk. The spokesman denied Aknaf was fighting alongside pro-Assad Palestinian fighters or receiving military assistance from the regime.

But by necessity, the aid must pass through government-controlled areas that completely surround Yarmouk. To many of the 18,000 residents the U.N. says remain in the refugee camp, that means only one thing.

Aknaf has become a “government militia,” said camp resident Aeham Ahmad. Said another resident: “When I am getting weapons from the regime, what does it mean? It means I have entered into a pact with it. The regime isn’t going to give weapons that will be turned against it.”

Such rebel ties with the government, even if they prove temporary, are important talking points for the Assad regime, which has described itself as the geographic and operational center of the international campaign against Islamic State and portrayed Yarmouk and other Palestinian refugee camps as pivotal battlegrounds in the fight.

The willingness to broker ties with rebel groups continues a government effort to neutralize the insurgency, partly by enlisting some of opposition’s tens of thousands of fighters in the fight against Islamic State. Damascus has sought truces with rebel factions in areas it has put under siege.

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