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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

ILO: Women Still Losing Out in Global Work Place

International Labor Organization says women are marginally better off now than they were 20 years ago More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More