"The fighting over the past week is a watershed moment for the Syrian uprising. The momentum against extremism can pave the way for the re-emergence of moderate groups that had been pushed to the margins under ISIS's reign of terror. The episode has proved that it is Syria's mainstream rebels who are best fit to face down extremists -- not the Assad regime."
Al Qaeda's reign of terror over most of rebel-held Syria may have finally been broken last Friday. On Jan. 3, secular and religious Syrians in various rebel-held towns and cities protested against the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The protests evolved into clashes between ISIS and two rebel groups -- the newly formed Jaish al-Mujahideen and the newly organized Syrian Revolutionaries Front. The clashes began in western Aleppo and then spread into at least three other provinces -- Idlib, Raqqa, and Deir Ezzor -- and groups affiliated with the predominantly Salafi Islamic Front became involved in some of the fighting against ISIS.
This is one of the most heartening developments in Syria in months. The rise of ISIS over the past year was the worst thing that could happen to the Syrian revolution. Its brutal tactics in liberated areas forced many Syrian moderates into hiding or into joining radical groups; it deterred journalists and aid workers from operating in those areas; it deepened divisions among rebel factions; and it ultimately helped to change the narrative in favor of Bashar al-Assad's regime.