Rebel-on-rebel fighting escalates in Syria

Published January 5th, 2014 - 05:21 GMT
Clashes between moderate Syrian rebel groups and the al-Qaeda-linked ISIL shifts to a new province on the border with Turkey. [Al-Arabiya]
Clashes between moderate Syrian rebel groups and the al-Qaeda-linked ISIL shifts to a new province on the border with Turkey. [Al-Arabiya]

Clashes continued Sunday between moderate rebel groups and the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in some of the most serious infighting among those trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

The fighting marks the strongest pushback yet from Syrian rebel groups claiming that their uprising against Assad has been hijacked by ISIL, which seeks to impose Islamic rule in opposition-held portions of the country.

While clashes were mainly concentrated in Aleppo and Idlib, fighting shifted to a new province on Sunday, this time to the town of Tabqa in Raqa on the northern border with Turkey, where ISIL is extremely powerful, Agence France-Presse reported.

ISIL jihadists killed at least 24 rival rebels in northern Syria, AFP reported on Sunday, citing insurgents and medics.

Near Tal Rifaat, a village in the northern province of Aleppo, at least 10 rebels were killed Saturday in an ISIL attack on their vehicles, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Also in the Aleppo town of Hreitan, five rebel fighters were killed Saturday in a car bomb attack by ISIL, the Britain-based Observatory said, citing rebel and medical sources on the ground.

Liwa al-Tawhid, a brigade in the massive Islamic Front rebel alliance, said on its Facebook page that its members were targeted in the car bomb attack.

In Idlib in the northwest of Syria, which has also seen major fighting between the rebels and ISIL, four rebels were killed in an ISIL ambush near Jabal al-Zawiya, while five others were executed by ISIL in the town of Harem.

Violence has raged between the two sides since rebels, including Islamists, attacked checkpoints and bases manned by ISIL, which is accused of abuses against other insurgents, activists and civilians in areas where they operate.

On Saturday, ISIL distributed an audio statement warning the rebels to stop pressuring the jihadists, or else they would withdraw from the frontlines in Aleppo city and let the Assad regime in.

ISIL pulling out from strategic areas

Reuters, meanwhile, reported that the rebels scored some successes against ISIL fighters.

It cited opposition activists saying that the al-Qaeda-linked jihadists pulled out from strategic areas of northern Syria near the Turkish border on Sunday after coming under heavy fire from other Islamist brigades. 

Fighters from the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham militant group took over the ISIL positions in two towns, activists in northern Syria said.

“The Islamic State is pulling out without a fight. Its fighters are taking their weapons and heavy guns. They appear to be heading in the direction of Aleppo,” activist Firas Ahmad said. 

But the pullout on Sunday, which included the ISIL stronghold of al-Dana in Idlib and the important supply line town of Atma involved no fighting, suggesting a possible deal to avoid larger confrontations that would sap the strength of the two sides and play into the hands of Assad, opposition sources and Middle East diplomats said.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press said that Syrian rebels on Sunday seized a compound held by ISIL.

ISIL has been said to seek hegemony by taking over key roads and checkpoints from the hands of its rivals, while some opponents of Assad have even accused it of serving the interests of his regime.

The Secretary General of the Free Syrian Army, Captain Ammar al-Wawi went further by saying that ISIL was “a group of gangsters following” President Assad’s regime, Iran and Iraq.

Captain Wawi told Al Arabiya News Channel that the sole aim of ISIL is to “hijack the Syrian revolution.”

ISIL has claimed responsibility for a suicide attack killing four people this week in a Hezbollah bastion in southern Beirut. The Lebanese Shiite movement is a key ally to President Assad and has sent thousands of fighters into Syria to support his regime.

In Iraq, ISIL took over the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, this week.

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