Al-Qaeda members fighting in Syria are tightening their hold on territory along the Turkish and Iraqis borders, Israel Radio reported Saturday. The al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the the Levant (ISIL) set up checkpoints along main roads in northern Syria in order to cement control of the area.
Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Syria have been some of the most effective forces on the battlefield, and they often fight alongside more moderate rebel brigades against government troops. But with growing frequency, Islamic extremist fighters and more mainstream rebels are turning their guns on each other.
Turf wars and retaliatory killings have evolved into ferocious battles that have effectively become a war within a war in northern and eastern Syria, leaving hundreds dead on both sides.
One of the worst instances broke out late last month in the town of Azaz near the Turkish border as ISIL battled the more moderate Northern Storm Brigade linked to the Western-backed opposition.
A senior security source in Damascus cited by Israel Radio said that the Assad regime hopes the strengthening of terrorist group in Syria will lead the more moderate rebels to seek the army’s help in defeating al-Qaeda fighters.
In a statement released late Wednesday, six rebel groups urged ISIL and the Northern Storm Brigade to “cease fire immediately” and resolve their differences before an Islamic court. The appeal also called on ISIL to withdraw its fighters to areas where they were before the clashes in Azaz erupted late last month.
The appeal’s signatories included the Islamic Army, the Tawheed Brigade and Ahrar al-Sham — three of the most powerful rebel groups.
The conflict, which is rooted in what began as peaceful protests in March 2011, has laid waste to the countries’ cities, shattered its economy and driven more than two million people to seek shelter abroad. The violence affects every corner of Syria, which has become a patchwork of rebel-held and regime-held territory. More than 100,000 people have died in the civil war, according to UN figures.