THE murder by a jihadist militia on Thursday of a powerful Free Syrian Army commander highlights the country’s drift towards anarchy. Commander Kamal Hamami belonged to the FSA’s supreme command and wanted to discuss military operations with rival leaders when an Al Qaeda-linked group shot him. The killers belonged to the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’, which later said it would kill the entire leadership of the FSA’s supreme military council. Originally confined to its country, the Islamic State of Iraq merged a few months back with extremist Syrian groups to acquire its present nomenclature. This infighting among the rebels has helped President Bashar al-Assad, whose government has gone on the offensive and gained some important military victories, including the capture of Qusayr from the rebels. His government could now concentrate on wresting Homs from the dissidents.

Even though the Syrian civil war is more than 27 months old, its character underwent a radical change over the last year, with the spirit behind the Arab Spring giving way to a sectarian conflict. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are lending political, financial and military support to extremist elements at a time when around two-thirds of Syria is not under the Assad government. This has enabled Al Qaeda to make a major effort to turn Syria into a base of operations. As a report says, even Pakistani Taliban have managed to find their way to the country and work in tandem with those having a larger Islamist agenda. This could destabilise the entire Middle East. While there is a split in the Western world over arming Syrian rebels, America and Russia should try to revive the Geneva peace conference move, now in limbo, to end the slaughter which has so far cost 100,000 lives.

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