"... ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) - ... they came to number 2,000 men, he said, here in the northern city of Aleppo. Then, virtually overnight, they collapsed.
Omar's group, Ghurabaa al-Sham, wasn't defeated by the government. It was dismantled by a rival band of revolutionaries - hardline Islamists.
The Islamists moved against them ... confiscated the brigade's weapons, ammunition and cars, Omar said.... The group was effectively marginalized in the struggle to overthrow Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Around 100 fighters are all that remain of his force, Omar said.
It's a pattern repeated elsewhere in the country. During a 10-day journey through rebel-held territory in Syria, Reuters journalists found that radical Islamist units are sidelining more moderate groups that do not share the Islamists' goal of establishing a supreme religious leadership in the country.
The moderates, often underfunded, fragmented and chaotic, appear no match for Islamist units, which include fighters from organizations designated "terrorist" by the United States.
The Islamist ascendancy has amplified the sectarian nature of the war between Sunni Muslim rebels and the Shi'ite supporters of Assad. It also presents a barrier to the original democratic aims of the revolt and calls into question whether the United States, which announced practical support for the rebels last week, can ensure supplies of weapons go only to groups friendly to the West.... Most of the rebel groups in Syria were formed locally and have little coordination with others. The country is dotted with bands made up of army defectors, farmers, engineers and even former criminals.
Many pledge allegiance to the notion of a unified Free Syrian Army (FSA). But on the ground there is little evidence to suggest the FSA actually exists as a body at all..., ..., ...
Where the government forces did cede ground, Aleppo's residents did not welcome the rebels with open arms. Most fighters were poor rural people from the countryside and the residents of Aleppo say they stole. Omar acknowledged this happened..., ..., ...
As moderate rebel groups dithered, so did their backers outside the country. Bickering among the political opposition, a collection of political exiles who have spent many years outside Syria, also presented a problem for the United States about whether there would be a coherent transition to a new government if Assad fell.
But most importantly, Western powers fear that if weapons are delivered to Syrian rebels, there would be few guarantees they would not end up with radical Islamist groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, who might one day use them against Western interests..."