War Crime Accusations, Fragmentation Shake Syrian Opposition

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned this week that the Syrian opposition aligned against the regime of Bashar al-Assad was being "hijacked" by Islamic extremists, even as rebel forces expanded their influence into Palestinian refugee communities and were accused by human rights groups of committing war crimes.

Secretary Clinton declared on Wednesday that the United States would no longer recognize the Syrian National Council as the umbrella group for the Syrian opposition, and would instead search for new leaders at an upcoming meeting in Qatar designed to unify rebel groups. Said Clinton, "there needs to be an opposition that can speak to every segment and every geographic part of Syria... [and] that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution."

A video subsequently emerged on Friday morning of Syrian rebels spraying captured government troops with bullets as the troops lay on the ground. Human rights groups immediately labeled the shooting a potential war crime, while analysts outlined how the executions confirmed not only the U.S.'s concerns about extremism but also illustrated a lack of cohesion and discipline within the opposition.

Syria's 19-month-old civil war has also begun splitting Palestinian refugee camps inside the country. The approximately 150,000 Palestinians living in Damascus's Yarmouk refugee camp have traditionally been aligned with the Syrian regime, and many have fought alongside government forces over the last year and a half. But news this week emerged that opposition forces have identified sympathetic Palestinians are have begun arming them. The move may exacerbate opposition fragmentation.

Referencing that lack of cohesion, rebel commander Ammar al-Wawi told Reuters that "it's been our divisions that have allowed the Assad forces to reach this point." The concern was echoed senior Syrian military defector Mohammad Al-Haj Ali, who said "we are still facing some difficulties between the politicians and different opposition groups and the leaders of the Free Syrian Army on the ground."

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