News / Middle East

Syrian Rebel Groups Fight Among Themselves

Syrian rebels look over damaged cars after a car bomb exploded at a crossing point near Syria's border with Turkey, Sept. 17, 2013.
Syrian rebels look over damaged cars after a car bomb exploded at a crossing point near Syria's border with Turkey, Sept. 17, 2013.
Rebels groups trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have begun fighting with each other in towns across northern Syria, highlighting the growing turmoil between factions favored by the West and those allied to al-Qaida and other jihadist groups.
 
Fighters from the al-Qaida offshoot, the Islamic State of Syria and Sham (ISIS), overran the border town of Azaz near the frontier with Turkey late Wednesday, triggering the closure of a nearby key border crossing by Turkish soldiers.
 
The clashes in Azaz erupted after the jihadists seized a German doctor working with an international medical charity, claiming he was a spy, say opposition activists. Then rebels belonging to a group known as Northern Storm, part of the Western backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), responded by freeing the physician, prompting wider gun battles in Azaz.
 
Northern Storm itself is blamed for the kidnapping a year ago of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims.
 
Up to a dozen FSA fighters were killed in the fighting, according to opposition activists. At least two jihadists were killed, both foreign fighters, one a Libyan, say opposition activists, who declined to be named for safety reasons.
 
Azaz is a few minutes from the border crossing into Turkey at Bab-al-Salama, a major supply route for the rebels and one used by relief agencies to transport food and other essential aid into northern Syria. It is also one of the main crossings for refugees fleeing northern Syria.
 
“By taking Azaz, the Islamic State is a step closer to controlling the crossing. Its objective seems to be taking over the whole countryside north of Aleppo,” opposition activist Abu Louay al-Halabi told Reuters.
 
After the fighting late Wednesday, FSA rebels reinforced the border crossing, hoping to ensure their control of a frontier post that brings in considerable revenue from “taxes” and smuggling.
 
Battles throughout the region
 
Azaz wasn’t the only town that witnessed sharp and violent confrontations between various rebel factions. Jihadist and Islamist units clashed sharply in the eastern Syrian towns of Deir al-Zor and Raqaa on Wednesday, rebel sources said.
 
Sporadic fighting between rebel factions had become common in the towns since July, but the battles that erupted Wednesday were among the fiercest yet, according to local residents contacted over Skype. They said the jihadists drove other rebel units out of central Deir al-Zor, a town where Assad’s forces still hold the airport.
 
Even as the rebels fought each other, the Syrian Air Force launched strikes on residential areas of the town, according to the British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
In northeast Syria, Kurdish separatists drove jihadists from the village of Alok after four days of intense fighting. In recent weeks, clashes have increased between al-Qaida-affiliated jihadist rebels and Syrian Kurds aligned to Kurdish separatists in Turkey.
 
The jihadists have sought to exert more control over enclaves they control in northern Syria, while Kurdish militants have tried to seize oil fields currently controlled by jihadists.
 
The Kurdish militants captured the Syrian town Ras al-Ain on the border with Turkey last month, dealing a serious blow to the al-Qaida-affiliated rebels. In mid-2012, pro-Assad forces withdrew from Kurdish-majority areas in the north and since then Kurdish militants have sought to keep non-Kurdish rebels out of their towns.
 
Rebel infighting in numerous localized conflicts appears to have intensified since President Barack Obama’s acceptance last week of a Russian-brokered proposal to strip President Assad of his chemical weapons. Rebel leaders had based their battlefield tactics on U.S. strikes, developing plans to take advantage by launching offensives on Assad forces and bases hit by the Americans.
 
Fighting erupts as US and Russia negotiate
 
With the U.S. holding off on such air strikes, the tempo and severity of rebel internal strife has picked up.
 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, arrive for their press conference before their meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria, in Geneva, Sept. 12, 2013.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, arrive for their press conference before their meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria, in Geneva, Sept. 12, 2013.
x
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, arrive for their press conference before their meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria, in Geneva, Sept. 12, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, arrive for their press conference before their meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria, in Geneva, Sept. 12, 2013.
Last week, jihadists launched an operation in the town of al-Bab to the northeast of Aleppo aimed at expelling FSA-aligned rebels. That operation, dubbed “Cleansing Evil” came days after al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri told jihadists to shun the FSA, refuse cooperation with its commanders and to avoid alliances with other rebel fighters backed by Gulf Arab states and the West.

In an audio speech released a day after the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington D.C., Zawahiri said the United States would try to make the rebels align with “secular parties that are allied to the West.” He added: “I warn my brothers and people in the Syria of unity and jihad against coming close to any of these groups.”

The deepening rift between FSA rebels and jihadists has not, however, prevented ad hoc alliances forming elsewhere in Syria, adding to a picture of increasing chaos and confusion among insurgents.

In early summer, FSA rebels admitted that another al-Qaida affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, was in the vanguard of an effort to prevent pro-Assad forces -- assisted by the militant Lebanese Shia militia, Hezbollah -- from re-capturing the strategic town of Qusair.

Jihadists rebels also claim to be spearheading an offensive in the province of Hama, where they say they have overrun a government air defense base and ammunition depot.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs