End infighting, say Syria extemists
The head of an al Qaida-linked group in Syria reached out to rival rebel groups who have been engaged in a bloody battle with his fighters this month, calling for the two sides to end their infighting and instead unite against the government and its allies.
Rebel-on-rebel infighting between the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and an array or ultraconservative and more moderate rebel factions has killed more than 1,000 people across opposition-held northern Syria since it began in early January.
The clashes are the most serious among the opponents of President Bashar Assad in Syria's nearly three-year civil war.
In a new 16-minute audio message posted online today, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi accused the other rebel brigades of stabbing his group in the back, and said the infighting only benefits the government.
"You know that we did not want this war, we did not go for it and we did not plan for it. It is clear that the beneficiaries of this war are the Nusayris and the Shiites," he said, using a derogatory term for Mr Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
But he also called for reconciliation, saying the Islamic State "is extending its hand so that we refrain from attacking each other and so that we can join forces" against Mr Assad and his allies.
The message's authenticity could not be independently confirmed, but the audio was posted on a website commonly used by Islamic militants.
In Istanbul, meanwhile, the leadership of Syria's main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, was meeting to decide on its delegation for peace talks set to open on Wednesday in Switzerland.
Senior Coalition member Ahmad Ramadan said the meeting will decide who will negotiate with the Syrian government delegation at the so-called Geneva 2 conference.
Under immense pressure from its foreign patrons, the Coalition decided late on Saturday to take part in the peace talks, paving the way for the first direct negotiations between the rival sides.
The conference aims to broker a political settlement to the conflict based on a roadmap adopted by the US, Russia and other major powers in June 2012. That plan includes the creation of a transitional government with full executive powers.
The US and Russia have been trying to convene the conference since May, but it was repeatedly postponed. Both sides finally agreed to sit together at the negotiating table after dropping some of their conditions.