News / Middle East

Rebel-on-Rebel Violence Spreading in Syria

A Syrian rebel stands at the entrance to the headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, after it fall to the Syrian rebels, in Aleppo, Syria, Wednesday Jan. 8, 2014 (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)
A Syrian rebel stands at the entrance to the headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, after it fall to the Syrian rebels, in Aleppo, Syria, Wednesday Jan. 8, 2014 (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)
Fighting in northern Syria between Islamists and the most powerful of the al-Qaida affiliates in the country is spreading, with most insurgent-controlled cities now caught up in internecine violence that many analysts say will at least in the short-term weaken efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
 
At least 270 people, including nearly 50 civilians, have been killed in the rebel-on-rebel violence in the past few days. 
 
The long-simmering rivalry between rebel brigades affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army and the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) burst into open warfare recently. The fighting intensified after hardline Islamist brigades that several months ago broke with the FSA, joined forces with Western-backed fighters against ISIL, possibly prompted to do so by financial backers in the Gulf.
 
On Wednesday, Islamist rebels captured a key ISIL base in the city of Aleppo.  An ISIL spokesman vowed to crush the rebels as well as their nominal allies in the FSA. 
 
Adding to the complexity, another and smaller al-Qaida affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, which appeared to be trying to stay out of the conflict, has joined the coalition against ISIL - a move that may have long-term consequences for internal al-Qaida politics, analysts say.  Also on Wednesday, the head of al-Nusra appealed to all sides for a cease-fire - warning that the rebel-on-rebel fighting is jeopardizing the fight against the Assad government.  
 
Rebels fighting ISIL insist that the al-Qaida-affiliated group which is thought to number at least 15,000 fighters must abandon its attempt to establish a state-with-a-state and that it must either integrate into Syria’s other opposition militias or leave Syria.

The spark
 
The current infighting appears to have been triggered by the brutal slaying of Islamist commander and physician Dr. Hussein al-Suleiman, who had been placed in charge of a border crossing with Turkey by the Islamic Front but was seized, tortured and killed by ISIL fighters. Photographs of his mutilated body went viral on rebel social media sites. The Islamic Front demanded his killers be handed over for trial before a Sharia court.
 
Suleiman's killing came on top of other ISIL operations geared at securing control of lucrative border crossings where those in control of them impose “taxes” on supplies being transported from Turkey and to insist on a share of any weapon consignments.
 
Resentment towards ISIL has been growing for some time among civilians and other rebels who see the jihadist group as overbearing. Areas it controls – or wrested from other rebel groups – are subject to the jihadists’ strict interpretation of Sharia law with executions and imprisonment meted out for even small infractions. The al-Nusra Front partly broke with ISIL over the issue of its harsh treatment of civilians.
 
ISIL “kept pushing other rebels on the ground and refused almost every proposal for arbitration and compromise,” says Aron Lund, an analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The group’s intransigence finally managed to alienate even largely sympathetic Islamist groups, he says.
 
Lund argues that the impetus behind the dizzying series of Islamist mergers and coalitions that formed in opposition to ISIL came as a result of “a wave of encouragement and pressure from foreign funders such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and various private Kuwaiti Islamist sponsors.”
 
With the clashes drawing major media attention, one analyst, Aymenn al-Tamimi, a scholar at the Middle East Forum, a U.S.-based think tank, cautioned against portraying Islamist fighters as moderates simply because they are confronting ISIL.
 
Analyst Joshua Landis, author of the influential Syria Comment blog, highlighted a similar point, arguing that the Islamic Front would appear to be holding the door open to a rapprochement with ISIL. According to Landis, “ISIL’s goal of an Islamic state is not substantially different than that of the Islamic Front or the many other militias fighting in Syria.”

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More