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Factbox: Who are Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's foes?

WorldMay 26, 2021 07:14AM ET
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© Reuters. People hold opposition flags during a demonstration against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and presidential elections, in the opposition-held Idlib, Syria May 26, 2021. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's foes range from dissidents inside the country and Western-backed political opponents in exile, to Turkey-backed fighters in northwest Syria and U.S.-backed Kurds controlling an autonomous region in the northeast.

Assad, with the help of Russia and Iran-backed forces, has all but crushed a mainly Sunni Muslim armed opposition that evolved from peaceful demonstrations in 2011.

He has now regained control of over 70% of territory after a decade of conflict in which hundreds of thousands were killed and millions were forced to flee, and is set to win a fourth term in power in Wednesday's presidential election.

With the political opposition divided and armed opponents driven from most of the country, here is a list of Assad's current adversaries:

POLITICAL OPPOSITION

Assad's political opponents have been riven by divisions and competing interests. They include an Istanbul-based coalition and the Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee that represented the opposition at U.N.-brokered negotiations.

His security forces ban public activities by a domestic opposition comprised of leftist and nationalist figures led by Hassan Abdul Azim and known as the National Democratic Front, who advocate democratic reform.

They have called for the boycott of the election, calling it a farce under an "authoritarian regime".

Dozens of prominent political exiles living mainly in Western capitals are collecting evidence they hope could put Assad on trial on charges of crimes against humanity. Among them are prominent German-based lawyer Anwar al-Bunni and Alawite dissident lawyer and activist Mazen Darwish.

ARMED OPPOSITION

Much of the mainstream armed opposition who were defeated on the battlefield have regrouped in northwest Syria where they are now under the umbrella of a Turkey-backed force known as the National Army.

Thousands who opted not to be evacuated to the last rebel bastion surrendered under so-called reconciliation agreements that offered them amnesty and were brokered mainly by Russia.

They are mostly based in parts of southern and central Syria. Some have joined Russian-backed groups to run their areas while others have been enlisted in pro-government militias.

KURDISH OPPOSITION

The U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia runs northeast Syria where most of the country's oil reserves and wheat fields are located, depriving the government of revenues and thwarting Assad's drive to regain full control.

The country's minority Kurds, who were discriminated against by Assad's pan-Arabist ruling Baath party, run a civilian administration that governs the affairs of several million Syrians once ruled from Damascus.

The YPG have mostly not fought Syrian troops and maintain trade ties with Damascus. Assad, who insists they will eventually come back under his rule, has in recent years accused their leaders of treason.

RADICAL HARDLINE GROUPS

Hayat Tahrir al Sham, a former al Qaeda offshoot, is the biggest jihadist force that effectively dominates rebel parts of the northwest. It is accused of human rights abuses and is designated a terrorist organisation by most Western countries.

Remnants of the ultra-militant Islamic State who were driven out by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, mainstream rebels and Syrian troops remain a potent force in parts of eastern Syrian, where their hit and run attacks have prompted Russia to bomb their hideouts.

Factbox: Who are Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's foes?
 

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