Rebel fighters were laying siege Monday to al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in their northern stronghold of Raqqa,  managing to free 50 people they had detained, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Raqqa emerged as a new front Sunday in fighting between rebels battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad, with various groups joining forces against al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) , Agence France-Presse reported. “The rebels have been laying siege to ISIL’s headquarters in the city of Raqqa since last night. They released 50 Syrian prisoners held by ISIL in another building,” said the Observatory. Raqqa is the only provincial capital to have fallen out of regime hands since the devastating conflict broke out in March 2011.
Meanwhile, activists said dozens of fighters were killed in the clashes between rival rebel groups which have raged since Friday in Aleppo and Idlib, close to the border with Turkey, Reuters reported.
Infighting between rebels is seen as having strengthened Assad’s hand before the planned peace talks in Geneva on Jan. 22. Syrian army forces have pushed back rebels around Damascus and in central Syria.