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Syrian rebels battle al Qaeda jihadists in second 'revolution’

Video by Lucy FIELDER

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-07

Syrian rebels laid siege to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Raqa on Monday in a bid to oust the al Qaeda-linked jihadists, who have been accused of widespread abuses against both rival rebel groups and Syrian civilians.

At least 34 foreign jihadists from ISIL and another group have been killed in clashes with other rebels in Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday.

Three powerful rebel alliances launched what activists called a second "revolution" against the jihadists on Friday and have advanced quickly, expelling ISIL from its checkpoints and bases across Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces.

A broad coalition of moderates and Islamists is seeking to drive ISIL – which is accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing Syrians, including children – from its stronghold in the northern city of Raqa. The jihadist group, which is also active in Iraq, joined the fight against the Syrian regime in late spring 2013.

Rebels in Raqa managed to free 50 Syrian prisoners held by the Sunni extremists, who are believed to be holding hundreds of prisoners, including foreign journalists, the Observatory said.

Raqa is the only provincial capital lost by the regime since the conflict began in March 2011.

When the city later fell under ISIL control, Syrian rebel groups initially welcomed the aid of the battle-hardened jihadists. But tensions mounted as ISIL was accused of seeking total control over the areas in which it operates and imposing a reign of terror, in Raqa in particular.

Al Qaeda versus al Qaeda

The main group besieging ISIL's Raqa headquarters is al Nusra Front, which is also affiliated with al Qaeda but has long competed with ISIL for the right to represent the global terror network in Syria.

ISIL has struck back, including with a car bombing at a rebel checkpoint in Darkush, Idlib, that killed an unknown number of fighters on Monday, the Britain-based Observatory said. In Aleppo, a 16-year-old ISIL suicide attacker targeted a rebel checkpoint, killing one opposition fighter and wounding several more.

Activists and rights groups accuse ISIL of torturing and killing its rivals, including carrying out public executions.

On Monday, the body of a decapitated child was found near ISIL's headquarters in Kafranbel, Idlib, the Observatory said.

The rebel side has also committed abuses, including executing two ISIL fighters and burning one of their bodies in the Haydariyeh district of Aleppo "in front of neighbourhood residents", the group added.

While many in the opposition welcomed the war on ISIL, some fear it threatens to distract from the main battle against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Assad regime's air strikes on Aleppo have killed some 550 people between December 15 and January 2, according to the monitoring group.

So far, the Syrian conflict is estimated to have claimed more than 130,000 lives and forced millions more to flee their homes.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2014-01-07

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