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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs