BEIRUT — The merger of al-Qaida in Iraq and the extremist al-Nusra Front represents a “real test” to the credibility of the United Nations and the international community, which should choose between supporting terrorism or the Syrian government, state-run SANA news agency said Wednesday.
The announcement from al-Qaida’s chief in Iraq Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a “fact” that the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has long warned of, SANA said.
Opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun voiced concern Tuesday that the merger would aid the Syrian government’s argument that it’s fighting an insurrection by Sunni Muslim extremists. He said all liberal, democratic-minded. and moderate Syrians should “redouble our efforts to restore the real face of the uprising.”
The conflict in Syria began in 2011 with peaceful protests and turned violent after government troops began attacking the demonstrators. At least 70,000 people have been killed in the unrest.
SANA said Western governments have “ignored Syria’s warnings and the documents that it has presented to the United Nations” about this issue.
“Did these countries that profess progressiveness want terrorism to destroy Syria to serve their interests?” the agency said.“It is incumbent on everyone now to choose between al-Qaida and international law and legitimacy.”
The merger was disclosed April 8, The Associated Press said.
Links between al-Qaida in Iraq and the al-Nusra Front “were well known before this announcement,” the State Department’s acting spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said in an email Tuesday.
“We have long made clear our serious concerns with respect to the threat of violent extremist elements present in Syria, including al-Nusra Front.” The United States in December designated al-Nusra as an alias of al-Qaida in Iraq, he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry plans to go to Istanbul April 20 for meetings on the war in Syria, according to a State Department official, who spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity about the travel plans that haven’t been officially announced.
The importance of al-Nusra is that its members are among the most effective fighters in the Syrian rebellion, the Austin, Texas-based geopolitical consulting firm Stratfor said in an emailed report Tuesday.
“The rebels and their sponsors cannot afford to isolate the group if they want to make real gains on the battlefield,” it said.
In Jordan, the government opened a second camp for Syrian refugees today that can accommodate as many as 30,000 people, the state-run Petra news agency reported, citing Anmar Hmoud, the government’s spokesperson for Syrian refugee affairs.
The new camp seeks to reduce pressure on the Zaatari camp that hosts around 150,000 Syrian refugees, said Hmoud. He added that the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan stands at more than 483,000.
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