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Free Syrian Army set to unite rebels in southern Syria: official - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A rebel fighter from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) sits on a barricade as he holds a position on a front line in the northern city of Aleppo on October 1, 2014. (AFP)

A rebel fighter from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) sits on a barricade as he holds a position on a front line in the northern city of Aleppo on October 1, 2014. (AFP)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Efforts are underway to unite some 65 rebel factions under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) after Washington announced plans last month to train moderate militants fighting to topple the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.

“The plan would allow [rebel factions] to carry out operations against the Syrian regime in Damascus, facilitate support and prepare to receive training as announced by US,” a senior FSA figure Abu Ahmed Al-Asimi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

It is expected that the move will affect between 18, 000 and 20,000 fighters from around 65 opposition factions, including Islamist ones, mainly based in Dera’a, Quneitra and other southern provinces.

The merger will “be announced once the final touches are added,” the rebel leader said.

The swift advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the recent gains made by government forces have significantly weakened the FSA’s influence in the civil war-torn country. The plan is expected to bolster FSA and reduce the number of fighters joining rival Islamist groups.

Unifying rebel ranks will set the ground for a “military breakthrough” and “pave the way for them to fight as a single army with the aim of toppling the regime,” the FSA official said.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, denied any actual steps being taken on the ground. “Practically nothing serious has been achieved until this moment,” he said

It was reported that some 1,500 militants from Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front will be among those joining the Western-backed group, a claim denied by a senior FSA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The FSA supreme council has been seeking to absorb rebels from southern Syria into its ranks, the army’s Chief-of-Staff Abdel Ilah Al-Bashir previously told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Bashir spoke of plans being underway to unite disparate rebel factions in southern Syria in a bid to encourage coordination between anti-government fighters.

US Congress last months approved plans to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels as part of President Barack Obama’s campaign to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.