U.S. seeks to better understand Syria Islamists

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 4, 2013 5:00pm EST

1 of 2. Islamist fighters walk with their weapons during their graduation ceremony at a camp in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus November 28, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Diaa Al-Din

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States sees value in getting to know Islamist militias in Syria, in order to better understand their intentions in the civil war there and their possible links with al Qaeda, the top U.S. military officer said on Wednesday.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not say directly whether the United States is holding face-to-face talks with Islamist rebel groups. But he said Washington was still seeking to better understand the contours of the different Sunni Muslim rebel groups, some of whom purport to be affiliated with al Qaeda.

"I think it's worth knowing whether these groups have any intent whatsoever to be moderate and inclusive, or whether they ... from the start intend to be radical," Dempsey told reporters.

"So I think that finding that out, however we do so, is worth the effort."

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the United States and other countries have held direct discussions with certain Islamist groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil conflict.

Also on Wednesday, a commander of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah who fought in Syria was shot dead outside his home in Lebanon.

(Reporting Missy Ryan and Phil Stewart; editing by Jackie Frank)

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