December 2, 2014 / 5:48 PM / in 3 years

New Syrian opposition grouping fails to entice major rebel factions

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The latest effort to unify the fractured Syrian military opposition has done little to create a cohesive vehicle for foreign military aid that could fight insurgents in Syria, after at least two major rebel groups dropped out of the initiative.

Rebel fighters prepare to fire a machine gun towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Jabal al-Akrad area in Syria's northwestern Latakia province November 25, 2014. REUTERS/Alaa Khweled

The Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), formed over the weekend, was meant to include Islamist and more secular-minded groups while excluding hardliners Nusra and Islamic State targeted by U.S.-led coalition air strikes since September.

Among the RCC participants in an August statement of intent were the Western-backed Harakat Hazm and Syrian Revolutionaries Front, which Syrian opposition sources say have been vetted by the U.S. authorities to receive military support.

But opposition sources said both groups found it too heavily dominated by Islamists. The southern branch of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front denied any link to the council.

“When we felt it was diverting from the principles of the revolution we dropped out,” a senior member of Harakat Hazm said on condition of anonymity.

The RCC, which held its first meeting in the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep, never made a public statement of its aims. Other opposition sources said groups did not take the new body seriously.

“I went for the first day of the meeting in Gaziantep last week and left right away,” said one source declining to be named. “It’s a waste of time. They are not harmonized.”

Mainstream rebels say the failure of the United States and its allies to support them adequately has allowed groups such as Islamic State to dominate after 3-1/2 years of war.

The U.S.-led military coalition is looking for a credible ground force to help defeat Islamic State insurgents in Syria but wants to avoid strengthening the Syrian government and is wary of the splinters within the opposition.

There are at least two other projects underway, albeit at a nascent stage, to create a credible, unified military opposition that could be supported by foreign states.

In September, the United States approved a $500 million program to train and arm vetted Syrian rebels but the Department of Defense program has yet to start.

The CIA has also vetted opposition factions in an ostensibly covert program that has excluded Islamist groups. The agency has declined to comment on the program.

Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Raissa Kasolowsky

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