Sunday 17 December 2017

Fighting erupts between Syrian rebels and jihadists

Martin Chulov in BEIRUT

MONTHS of uneasy calm between jihadists and the mainstream Syrian opposition spilled into fierce fighting in Aleppo yesterday, days after a senior Free Syria Army (FSA) commander was assassinated by a jihadi group.

The fighting took place in Bustan al-Qasr, in the south-east of the divided city, near a checkpoint between the regime-held west and the opposition-held east. The east has been under the nominal control of units associated with the FSA for much of the past year. However, jihadists have also been trying to assert themselves, and last week took over the checkpoint.

The battle underscored the fast-splintering nature of the Syrian opposition, which made sweeping military gains across much of northern Syria last year, but has been unable to advance from its key strongholds in Aleppo and elsewhere since January.

Using a mix of charity and conciliation, the jihadists had initially won the trust of reluctant communities in Aleppo and in the countryside between the city and the Turkish border. However, their more strident posture in recent weeks is earning them enemies among their hosts.

The anger is focused on foreign jihadists. Foreign fighters are believed to have led the attack on the Aleppo checkpoint and killed senior commander Kamal Hamami in the Jebel al-Krud countryside north of Latakia last Thursday.

Jabhat al-Nusra, the main jihadist group, and the FSA had worked alongside each other during major operations in the north. While relations between them have not yet broken down, the rise in prominence of fringe organisations is eroding discipline across opposition ranks.

The infighting comes as the regime, heavily backed by Hezbollah forces from Lebanon and a large contingent of foreign Shia fighters, continues to slowly advance into rebel-held areas of Homs, Syria's third city, 150 miles south of Aleppo, which has been under intensive air and ground attack.

Opposition groups posted a video online yesterday, which purports to show Syrian jets attacking a crusader castle, Krak des Chevaliers, near the city. Some opposition strongholds in Homs, which is now a divided city, have been bombed more heavily than at any time since February 2012, activists say. Groupings of Syrian military to the south and east suggest a ground invasion may follow.

© Observer

Irish Independent

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