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Six Syrian rebel groups unite under Islamic Front against Assad

An estimated 45,000 troops from six Syrian-based rebel groups have united into an Islamic Front as the Syrian regime gets help from Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Syria rebels unite 11 22 13Enlarge
An opposition fighter monitors a lookout point on the frontline during clashes with regime forces in the northeastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor on November 21, 2013. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

After losing ground to government advances in the last month, Syrian rebel groups have joined forces under a new “Islamic Front,” the alliance announced online Friday.

Leaders of the front told Al Jazeera they are aiming for “full fusion,” and would relinquish ties to their old groups.

"The 'Islamic Front' is an independent military and social force that is aimed at bringing down Assad's regime in Syria and at replacing it with a just Islamic state," a statement from the alliance said.

The groups united under the alliance include Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Sham, al-Haq Brigades, Ansar al-Sham and Army of Islam. The Kurdish Islamic Front is also a member, Al Jazeera said.

The front's new leader is expected to be Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh of the group Suqour al-Sham.

The merger came after calls for unity from opposition fighters and their foreign backers. Recent losses of territory to President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Aleppo and Damascus were blamed in part on the rebel groups' fragmentation.

According to The Independent, the front combines 45,000 troops, although Agence France-Presse said the number could be as high as 50,000.

“Psychologically, this will also be of considerable importance,” security analyst Charles Lister told The Independent. “A development like this will undoubtedly result in a renewed intensity in rebel operations across many key parts of the country.”

The front said it would welcome cooperation with the Free Syrian Army.

“The doors are open to all the military factions, and a committee is working to study the entrance of all groups that also want to join,” Islamic Front representative Abu Firas said, BBC reported.

“It has been decided that all the factions’ military, media, humanitarian and administrative offices will merge over a transitional period of three months.”

Activists said the front's formation would also challenge Al Qaeda-linked extremists fighting in Syria, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Assad's troops, meanwhile, have been bolstered by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The civil war has stretched on for two and half years and claimed more than 120,000 lives while displacing millions more.

Some credit Abdel Qader Saleh with shepherding the Islamic Front’s formation over about seven months. He died Monday from wounds suffered in an earlier airstrike, but was considered a “charismatic” leader pushing for unity, AFP reported.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/131122/syria-rebels-united-islamic-front-assad-al-qaeda