Syrian rebels have seized a compound held by al Qaeda-linked militants as their one-time allies used car bombs against them. Dozens have now been killed as infighting escalates within opposition forces.
The assault on Sunday against the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is the strongest pushback yet from Syrian rebels, who have seen their uprising against President Bashar al-Assad hijacked by al Qaeda forces.
The clashes began Friday after residents accused the ISIL of killing a doctor in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo. Fighting then spread to rebel-held areas of the northeast province of Idlib and the central province of Hama.
The chaos escalated further over the weekend, as jihadist groups began fighting each other outside Aleppo. Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground, told AFP that the ISIL exchanged fire with the Nusra Front, a rival Islamist force that also joined the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Rebel against rebel, jihadist against jihadist
The Observatory said ISIL fighters had used car bombs for the first time to defend its territory. ISIL, currently also involved in a bloody conflict against the Iraqi government across the border, entered Syria last year to take advantage of upheaval to assert power in rebel-held areas. That has led to heightened internecine tension within opposition forces.
Elsewhere, there were indications that a deal had been struck between opposition forces so as not to weaken the resistance against Assad. According to Reuters news agency, ISIL's retreat on Sunday from former strongholds of al Dana and the supply town of Atma involved no fighting.
Fighters from the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham militant group took over the ISIL positions in the two towns, one activist reported. "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 told Reuters.
bk/msh (AFP, Reuters)