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

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