UK & World News
Syria: Rebel Groups Split Away From Coalition
Several Syrian rebel groups including a powerful al Qaeda-linked faction have broken away from the Western-backed opposition coalition - as UN inspectors return to continue their probe into chemical weapons attacks.
In a joint statement, 13 rebel groups led by the Nusra Front criticised the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, saying it no longer represents their interests.
The statement reflects the lack of unity in the exiled political opposition and the rebel groups fighting President Bashar al Assad's regime.
The rebel groups' statement called on all those trying to topple Assad's government to unite under a "clear Islamic framework" - an apparent reference to the al Qaeda faction's aspirations to create an Islamic state in Syria.
It said the rebels do "not recognise" any future government formed outside Syria, insisting that forces fighting on the ground should be represented by "those who suffered and took part in the sacrifices."
But the rebels themselves are also deeply divided, with many groups blaming jihadis and al Qaeda militants in their ranks for the West's reluctance to intervene militarily in Syria or give them the advanced weapons they need.
There is also growing concern that the dominant role the extremists are playing is discrediting the rebellion.
Meanwhile, a team of UN chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Damascus on Wednesday to continue investigating what officials have described as "pending credible allegations" of the use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war.
The visit of the six-member team, led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, follows a report by the inspectors published after their previous trip in September, which said nerve agent sarin was used in an August 21 attack near the capital, Damascus.
The US and its allies say Mr Assad's regime was behind the attack, which Washington said killed 1,400 people.
Damascus blames the rebels for the attack. Russia, a close ally of Mr Assad, said the UN report did not provide enough evidence to blame the Syrian government.
The United States and Russia brokered an agreement for Syria to give up its chemical weapons but UN diplomats say they are at odds on details of a Security Council resolution spelling out how it should be done and the possible consequences if Syria fails to comply.
Meanwhile, three boats carrying more than 700 asylum-seekers - some of whom were Syrian refugees - landed in Italy on Wednesday, the Coastguard said.
The new arrivals reflected a sharp increase in boats landing with people fleeing conflict-torn parts of the Mediterranean region and the Horn of Africa.
Two of the boats arrived on the island of Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost point and a major gateway for undocumented migration into the European Union.