September 26, 2013 / 4:04 PM / 6 years ago

Syrian rebel leader returns to reconcile Islamist fighters

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The head of the opposition Syrian Supreme Military Council cut short a visit to France on Thursday and said he would head to Syria for talks with rebel brigades that broke with the Western-backed coalition.

General Salim Idris, who commands the coalition’s military wing known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said he would travel to Syria on Friday to meet fighters from the 13 groups which rejected on Tuesday the authority of the Turkey-based coalition.

The rebel groups, including at least three considered to be under the FSA umbrella, called on Tuesday for the rebel forces to be reorganized under an Islamic framework and to be run only by groups fighting inside Syria.

“We should deal wisely with their statement. I returned from France so as to follow up with the field commanders and work toward unifying all the ranks,” Idriss told Reuters by telephone after arriving in Istanbul.

FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said Idriss hoped to solve the grievances of the dissident rebels, who have long been wary of accepting leadership by figures who have spent much of Syria’s two-and-a-half-year civil war outside the country.

“He will meet the brigades that rejected the coalition who are losing hope,” Meqdad said. “The coalition maybe were not connected to the ground but now they will communicate and try to resolve this.”

Rebel brigades battling President Bashar Al-Assad are fragmented and increasingly fighting internal conflicts. The growing power of Islamist groups has also made the United States and other Western powers reluctant to step up support for them.

Idriss, a former officer in Assad’s army, was chosen in late 2012 as a consensus figure to lead the Supreme Military Council, which runs the FSA rebel group.

Some of the signatories of the statement rejecting the coalition, including Tawheed and Islam brigades, were considered part of the FSA. The SMC in turn has 15 members in the Syrian National Coalition, the political body representing the opposition.

Reporting by Dasha Afanasieva in Istanbul and Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, editing by Mark Heinrich

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