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

Video 2nd American Reportedly Killed in Syria

Minnesota television report says Abdirahman Muhumed left area to fight for Islamic State militants More

WHO Fears Ebola Outbreak Could Infect 20,000 People

World Health Organization says outbreak 'continues to accelerate' but that most cases are concentrated in a few local areas More

Angelina Jolie Marries Brad Pitt

Actors wed in small private ceremony Saturday in France More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid