Rebels' tie with Qaeda boosts Syria regime
The public pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda by Syria's fiercest rebel group, Al-Nusra Front, serves the interests of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, analysts say.
"It's a point in the regime's favour because it reinforces the official narrative that claims (the army faces) terrorist groups backed by foreign forces," said Damascus Centre for Strategic Studies head Bassam Abu Abdallah.
"The opposition's stance is weakened before Syrian and international public opinion," he said.
Al-Nusra Front's chief Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani pledged allegiance on Wednesday to al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is calling for an Islamic state in Syria and the "restoration of an Islamic caliphate".
The insurgency is composed of four main elements:
The mainstream Free Syrian Army, which says it is fighting to establish a democratic state, the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, the more hardline Syrian Islamic Front, and Al-Nusra Front.
Experts say the Free Syrian Army comprises some 140,000 fighters, while Islamists number around 8,000. But the Islamists are better equipped and have impressed the population.
After Al-Nusra's pledge of allegiance, Abu Abdallah believes the regime will now go all-out on the battlefield. "It's a green light for the authorities," he said.
"The situation has become clearer. We are going to see major change on the ground, and intensified military operations to finish this group off," he added.
In combat zones across Syria, troops and rebels appear to have reached a stalemate, except in the south where insurgents are advancing.
The regime still holds the coastal areas and major cities -- barring Raqa in the north and large parts of Aleppo -- while insurgents control large swathes of northern and eastern Syria.