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

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs