Defeated rebels armed by the US defect to jihadists
Two of the main rebel groups receiving weapons from America to fight both the regime and jihadist groups in Syria have surrendered to al-Qaeda.
The US and its allies were relying on Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) to become part of a ground force that would attack the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
For the past six months, the Hazm movement, and the SRF through them, had been receiving heavy weapons from the US-led coalition.
But on Saturday night, Harakat Hazm surrendered military bases and weapons supplies to Jabhat al-Nusra, when fighters from the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria stormed villages they controlled in northern Idlib province. It came a day after Jabhat al-Nusra dealt a final blow to the SRF, capturing Deir Sinbal, home town of the group's leader, Jamal Marouf.
The attack caused the group, which had already lost its territory in the Syrian city of Hama to al-Qaeda, to surrender.
"As a movement, the SRF is effectively finished," said Aymen al-Tammimi, a Syria analyst. "Nusra has driven them out of their strongholds of Idlib and Hama."
The collapse of the SRF and attacks on Harakat Hazm have weakened the presence of moderate rebel fighting groups in Syria, which, after almost four years of conflict, is becoming a battle ground between the Syrian regime and jihadist organisations.
The loss of a group that had been held up as an example of Western efforts to court moderate rebel factions is a humiliating blow for Washington. US President Barack Obama recently announced a scheme, run by the US, Turkey and other allies to train and equip 5,000 Syrian rebels to fight Isil.
But rigorous procedures to vet and train Syrian candidates mean it will be up to a year before they have a force ready to fight, while a lack of weapons have rendered moderate groups largely irrelevant. (© Daily Telegraph, London)