Syrian Rebels Wage New Battle Against Al-Qaeda Affiliate

Rebels battled the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) on Friday in the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Idlib, following months of discontent with ISIS’ treatment of civilians in opposition held-areas of northern Syria.

“The protests today are the result of tensions that have been building in northern Syria for several months now, mostly relating to ISIS’ treatment of civilians and localized rebel units and individuals,” Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha center told BuzzFeed in an email.

Speaking from Aleppo, Syrian media activist Murad Alshawakh told BuzzFeed that the fighting erupted because many Syrians were angry over ISIS aggressions and wanted them out of the country.

The Assad regime has been battling rebels groups in northern Syria since the opposition gained control in 2012. In recent weeks, the government has unleashed a barrage of bombings that have killed hundreds, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Anti-Assad groups have also faced competition among themselves. The well-armed and funded ISIS, which originated as an Al-Qaeda affiliate out of Iraq, has gained considerable ground in recent months. ISIS has raised the ire of civilians and Syrian rebels for imposing a harsh form of Sharia Islamic law in areas under its control, including death by stoning for slight transgressions.

According to news reports, ISIS’ recent alleged killing of a senior commander of the large Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, Hussein al-Suleiman (also called Abu Rayyan), in part ignited Friday’s anger. A graphic photo of Abu Rayyan’s disfigured and allegedly tortured body was shared widely on social media this week. Protestors named the Friday protests after Abu Rayyan.

Friday’s fighting in Atareb, Aleppo, involved a new anti-ISIS and anti-Assad rebel coalition called Jaish al-Mujahideen, formed Thursday night, according to activists. There were also reports of fighting between ISIS and other rebel groups, including localized Free Syrian Army (FSA) units and Liwa al-Tawhid, another rebel group associated with the FSA.

Videos of FSA supporters protesting against ISIS and Assad were posted to social media sites.

A video appeared to show Syrian rebels detaining an ISIS fighter during fighting in Atareb.

ISIS forces reportedly opened fire on protestors at an anti-ISIS demonstration in Kafr Makharim, Idlib, according to the SOHR.

By nightfall, there were reports of continued fighting in rebel-controlled areas around Aleppo and Idlib. There were also unverified reports that some ISIS forces had surrendered, and that ISIS and Jaish al-Mujahideen had reached a temporary ceasefire. From the day’s fighting, dozens were reported dead, including two Syrian freelance journalists, and hundreds injured, according to activists.

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