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Rebel split from Syria opposition council?

Thirteen armed rebel units in Syria have rejected the authority of the Western and Gulf-Arab-backed Syrian opposition. Meanwhile UN inspectors return to probe further suspected instances of chemical weapons use.

Key Syrian Islamist rebels demanded on Wednesday that Sharia law be the "sole source" of legislation in Syria, adding in a video message that the exiled leadership of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) did not represent them.

Analysts on Wednesday said the message could signal a "depletion" of the SNC's armed wing, the Syrian Military Council, and marked a growth in power of Islamist forces.

The declaration, read on screen by an elderly, unidentified man, said the 13 units did not recognize the coalition's "transitional government" led by the Ahmed Tumeh.

Tumeh, a veteran opposition leader and dentist who has long called for reform in Syria, was elected in Istanbul early this month to head the government-in-exile.

Signatories listed in the objectors' video included the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front and the powerful Islamist but non-jihadist Ahrar al-Sham and more moderate Tawheed Brigade and the Islam Brigade.

Infighting reported

Their declaration coincided with more infighting between rebels who since 2011 have resisted the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The news agency Reuters said al-Qaeda fighters had clashed on Syria's northern and eastern borders with the Free Syrian Army which receives non-lethal support from the United States.

Disarray among rebel forces and the was one of the arguments raised in August as Western powers debated whether to intervene militarily after a chemical weapons attack in Damascus on August 21.

Fragile opposition leadership?

Charles Lister, an analyst of IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre said the inclusion of moderate rebel groups among those renouncing the SNC "effectively depletes the SNC's armed wing, the Syrian Military Council."

Another analyst, Aron Lund, on the blog Syria Comment told Reuters that the video statement, if proven accurate, would amount to a "rebellion of a large part of the 'mainstream FSA' against its purported political leadership."

Inspectors return to Damascus

A team of UN chemical weapons inspectors head by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom returned to Damascus on Wednesday to further probe the alleged use of the banned weapons during the country's two-and-a-half-year civil war.

The team is expected to investigate at least three instances of alleged chemical weapons usage, including a March attack in Khan al-Assal in northern Aleppo province.

Earlier this month, the inspectors filed a report to UN chief Ban Ki-moon which said the gaseous nerve agent sarin was used in the August 21 attack in the Eastern Ghouta neighborhood near Damascus.

The United States and Russia recently brokered an agreement requiring Syria to itemize and give up its chemical weapons. Assad denied using chemical weapons.

UN diplomats say they remain at odds on the wording of a Security Council resolution that would spell out how it should be done and the possible consequences if Syria does not comply.

ipj/rg (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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