Syrian opposition members denied that al-Qaeda or its affiliates have a significant role in the uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
They told Al-Shorfa that al-Qaeda cannot hijack the revolution from the Syrian people, who are fighting for their freedom and their rights.
Their denial comes as different self-identified jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda affiliates, have issued calls for people to wage jihad in Syria, with some reporting attacks against regime troops.
In July, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurashi, the so-called emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, posted a message on the jihadist forum Hanein urging "mujahideen in the Levant" to proceed with their "revolution".
"Proceed, with God's blessing, and never accept a rule or constitution other than the rule of God and his pure sharia," the message said.
Al-Baghdadi also called on followers to "restore the Islamic state, which does not recognise artificially-delineated borders or any nationality other than Islam".
With media reports emerging that al-Qaeda members are taking part in the fighting, Burhan Ghalioun, the former president of the Syrian National Council, dismissed their influence.
"While al-Qaeda claims it is taking part in it, the primary participants are the Syrian people who suffered for decades under the Assad regime," he told Al-Shorfa.
Ghalioun, who spoke from Bahrain, described al-Qaeda's claims of playing a role in the Syrian uprising as "false" and "inaccurate" and "insulting to the martyrs of the revolution".
"This revolution is the revolution of an entire people, the Syrian people," he said.
"In addition to the masses who took to the streets, there are individuals who defected from the regime and joined the revolution," Ghalioun said, adding that the people carrying out the revolution "in the neighbourhoods, streets, villages, towns and cities are the youth and the people who joined peaceful protests to demand their rights and their freedom and were met with the force of arms."
He said that increased reports about al-Qaeda's presence in Syria can be attributed to lawlessness at some border crossings, especially on the Iraqi border, and downplayed the significance of the group's rumoured infiltration.
"Whatever announcements the organisation makes [that it scored victories in the uprising] pale in comparison with the people's achievements in the revolution," he said. "The people are the real power that created the revolution, and they continue to wage it in every region of Syria. The people who suffered under the Assad regime are the true owners, the driving force and the heroes of the revolution."
"Al-Qaeda and its role in the revolution are part of the regime's plan to divert attention from what is happening," Ghalioun said. "This will not affect the reality on the ground."
He said Muslim youth are not participating in the uprising at al-Qaeda's behest.
"The Syrian youth did not wait for al-Qaeda's call. They joined on their own through the battalions that were formed and through the Free Syrian Army," he said.
"They are writing the revolution with their blood, and neither this terrorist organisation nor others will be able to change the course of a revolution of a rightful people. The opposition and the rebels flatly reject this group's intervention in this righteous revolution that is being written with the blood of martyrs and innocent children, and we refuse [to allow] this infamous organisation to pollute our revolution," Ghalioun said.
Meanwhile, George Sabra, an opposition member living in Paris, dismissed al-Qaeda's claims that it has a role in the uprising as "absurd".
"The Syrian people have fought a battle in all villages for the past 17 months," he said. "We have no need for this terrorist organisation, and its claims have no foundation in truth."
"The Syrian Islamist movements that are participating in the revolution are moderate and far removed from extremism and al-Qaeda's ideas, and we deny that the organisation has any presence [in Syria]," he said.
He said support from an organisation like al-Qaeda would negatively affect the course of the uprising.
"The Syrian people do not need support from anyone, especially from al-Qaeda, an organisation that owns a horrendous record against humanity. The people have risen up and are out demonstrating. They do not need support from an organisation that would distort the image of the revolution and the achievements of the heroic Syrian people," Sabra said.
"We are not interested in whatever al-Qaeda calls for," he added. "Syria has many courageous fighters and millions of young men who have taken bullets in their chests. Syria's men are capable of liberating the country."
Sabra also responded to fears that an organisation like al-Qaeda could take over the revolution.
"No one can hijack the revolution," he said. "It is in the hands of the people and moderate [Islamist] groups, not al-Qaeda nor its ideology or policies, and not other organisations that are a hindrance to the revolution."
In Abu Dhabi, Samir Nashar, a member of the executive office of the Syrian National Council, told Al-Shorfa, "I cannot deny or confirm the presence of al-Qaeda elements in Syria. There are concerns that al-Qaeda could expand in Syria if the international community does not pay attention to what is taking place."
Nashar warned of the possibility of al-Qaeda gaining a foothold in Syria without adequate support by the international community for Syrian opposition groups. The lack of support may allow al-Qaeda to "infiltrate and recruit members with the money and weapons it possesses," Nashar told Al-Shorfa.
He described al-Qaeda as a "terrorist phenomenon that tears at the social fabric". He added that Syria is a "diverse society, and Sunnis in Syria are moderate, conservative and do not support al-Qaeda".
Nashar said al-Qaeda is trying to appeal to the street by exploiting the intensity of the fighting, and the regime's attempt to "stoke the fire of sectarianism with the massacres it is committing".
"But that will not happen," he said. "The Alawites are not our enemies. Our enemy is the regime of Bashar Assad, who is pulling sectarian strings and playing his game to ignite a civil war."
Meanwhile, reports about the presence and size of al-Qaeda in Syria are "overblown", said Lebanese journalist Qasim Qasir, who covers Islamist movements.
Al-Qaeda's calls to young people "may fall on receptive ears, but the number of individuals who respond will be small because young Syrians are aware of al-Qaeda's negative role", he told Al-Shorfa. "It would be difficult for al-Qaeda to hijack the Syrian revolution because its presence is insignificant, but it could influence the course of the [conflict]," Qasir said.
He cited al-Qaeda's inability to take positions of power in Iraq.
"Despite al-Qaeda's long list of attacks and bombings in Iraq it was unable to gain control of the country, and it will not gain control in Syria with the rebels because it is not the principal player in the events despite the image it is trying to project," he said.
"There is ample awareness among Syrians and the rebels about al-Qaeda's negative role and what it is seeking to accomplish by sowing sectarian and religious strife," Qasir said. "It is safe to say that the Syrian people are far removed from the influence of al-Qaeda's failed plots."