The US and UK have decided to suspend all “non-lethal assistance” for Syrian rebels.
A US embassy spokesman in Ankara said the decision was made after Islamist rebels seized bases belonging to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Fighters from the Islamic Front, a new alliance of major rebel groups, took control of the bases at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey last week.
Humanitarian assistance by the US and UK is not expected to be affected.
That was distributed through international and non-governmental organizations, the US embassy spokesman added.
Last month, seven leading rebel groups – the Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Sham and the Kurdish Islamic Front – declared that they were forming the largest alliance yet in the 33-month conflict, with an estimated 45,000 fighters.
Fighters from the Islamic Front, a new alliance of major rebel groups, took control of the bases at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey
They said the new Islamic Front was an “independent political, military and social formation” that aimed to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s government and build an Islamic state.
The front does not include al-Qaeda affiliates like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front, but its charter welcomes “muhajirin”, or foreign fighters, as “brothers who supported us in jihad”, and suggests it is willing to co-operate with them.
Last week, the Islamic Front announced that it had withdrawn from the command of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council (SMC), which is aligned to the opposition National Coalition.
Four days later, its fighters drove out SMC-aligned forces out of their bases and warehouses at Bab al-Hawa, in the north-western province of Idlib, which contained weapons and equipment that had been brought into Syria through Turkey.
SMC spokesman Louay Meqdad said the Islamic Front had raised its flag in place of the SMC’s after “asking” its personnel to leave. But he also stressed: “We believe that those brigades are our brothers, that they know that we are not the enemy.”
On Wednesday, the US embassy spokesman told the Reuters news agency that the situation at Bab al-Hawa was being investigated to “inventory the status of US equipment and supplies provided to the SMC”.
The US government has committed to provide $250 million in non-lethal assistance to the National Coalition, local opposition councils and the SMC. Rebel brigades have been provided with food rations, medical supplies, communications equipment and vehicles.
Top Syrian rebel commander Abdul Qadir al-Saleh has died of wounds he sustained in a government air strike on a rebel-held air base near Aleppo on Thursday, reports say.
Abdul Qadir al-Saleh, the leader of Liwa al-Tawhid, died overnight, a spokesman told the Associated Press.
Abdul Aziz Salama, the brigade’s political leader, had assumed overall command, the spokesman added.
Abdul Qadir al-Saleh has died of wounds he sustained in a government air strike on a rebel-held air base near Aleppo
Opposition activists had said Abdul Qadir al-Saleh, also known as Hajji Marea, was in a good condition in hospital last week.
Liwa al-Tawhid (Battalion of Monotheism) was formed in July 2012 to unite the many separate fighting groups operating in the Aleppo countryside. Later that month, it led a rebel offensive on the city of Aleppo.
Liwa al-Tawhid is now one of the main forces operating in the province, and is estimated to have between 8,000 and 10,000 fighters.
In January, it joined the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), an alliance of Islamist rebel groups that recognizes the Western-backed Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army but not the National Coalition.
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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 16 Syrian soldiers have been killed in a suicide bombing and fighting that followed in Damascus suburb of Jaramana.
The blast triggered clashes at a checkpoint near the mainly-Christian area of Jaramana, activists say.
State media blamed “terrorists” for the explosion but did not give details.
Earlier, the US urged the Syrian government to allow aid to reach starving civilians in Damascus.
Washington said the army’s months-long siege left many people in rebel-held areas in desperate need of food, water and medicine.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said the suicide car bombing by the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front triggered heavy fighting at a key checkpoint between Jaramana and the rebel-held town of Mleha.
At least 16 Syrian soldiers have been killed in a suicide bombing and fighting that followed in Damascus suburb of Jaramana
It said rebels fired rockets into Jaramana during the fighting and Syrian fighter jets retaliated by striking nearby opposition-held areas.
The report could not be confirmed.
Rebels control much of the countryside around Damascus but Jaramana – a Christian and Druze area mostly loyal to President Bashar al-Assad – is still held by the government.
In August a car bomb in the suburb killed 18 people.
President Bashar al-Assad has drawn support from Syria’s ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians and members of his Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
The rebel movement is dominated by Sunni Muslims, who are a majority in Syria.
In a statement on Friday, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “We call on the Syrian regime to immediately approve relief convoys.”
And she warned that “those who are responsible for atrocities in the Damascus suburbs and across Syria must be identified and held accountable”.
At least three of Damascus’s suburbs – Yarmouk, Eastern Ghouta and Moudamiyah – have been besieged by government forces for several months.
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) has announced that it has moved its command centre from Turkey to “liberated areas” inside Syria.
A video posted on YouTube appeared to show the leader of the FSA, Riad al-Asaad, confirming the move.
General Riad al-Asaad does not say in the video when the move took place, or where in Syria the FSA’s new headquarters are.
The FSA is the most prominent of the armed groups fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Thousands of Syrians have died since the initially peaceful uprising began in March 2011, with activist groups putting the toll at over 25,000.
The FSA’s move into Syria was made the previous week and “aimed to unite all rebel groups”, Brig Gen Mustafa al-Sheikh of the FSA’s military council told the Associated Press news agency.
The video which appears to show Gen. Riad al-Asaad announcing the move is entitled Communique Number One From The Inside.
In it, he says that the relocation had happened “after successful arrangements the FSA made earlier in collaboration with the combat battalions and brigades to secure liberated areas”.
He goes on to say the FSA will fight “side by side” with “all brigades and factions” until victory.
Gen. Riad al-Asaad adds the capital, Damascus, will be “liberated soon, God willing” but also rejects the idea that the FSA is seeking to replace the current regime.
The Syrian people must agree on any new government, he says.
FSA has announced that it has moved its command centre from Turkey to liberated areas inside Syria
The move is significant as the FSA has previously been criticized for leading from Turkey and being out of touch with realities on the ground.
It now seems the FSA has territory it feels is reliably under their control.
The new command centre, in a secret location, will clearly be highly vulnerable to air attack by the regime – something that could increase pressure for some kind of international air cover for the “liberated areas”.
Meanwhile, in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, a government offensive against districts where rebels have been operating has reportedly been continuing.
Graphic footage posted online on Saturday appears to show the aftermath of an airstrike in the Al-Missar quarter of the city.
Residents are shown trying to pull dead bodies from the rubble, including those of two young children.
The UK-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at nine people had died in a strike in Al-Missar.
The city has been the scene of rebel activity and heavy government bombardment for weeks.
Fighting was also reported by the Observatory between rebels and government forces in the western part of Aleppo province.
The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), a network of anti-government activists based inside Syria, said 66 people had been killed in and around Damascus on Saturday, where clashes between rebels and government forces have also been raging in recent weeks.
The LCC put the toll in Aleppo on Saturday at 47.
Also on Saturday, the Lebanese military said FSA rebels had attacked a Lebanese army border post near the town of Arsal.
The Lebanese army said in a statement that this was the second time in less than a week that the FSA had infiltrated Lebanese territory. Military reinforcements have now been moved to the area.