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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid