Syrian rebels have united to kill and capture dozens of jihadists in a new “revolution” against an al-Qaeda affiliate they accuse of worse abuses than hated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, activists said on Saturday.
Three powerful rebel alliances have taken on fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during two days of fierce combat in Aleppo and Idlib provinces that Syria’s main opposition National Coalition said it “fully supports.”
In new signs the nearly three-year conflict is spreading, ISIL seized the city of Fallujah in neighboring Iraq and claimed a suicide bomb attack in a Beirut stronghold of Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite movement fighting alongside al-Assad’s forces.
“At least 36 members and supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have been killed since Friday in Idlib and more than 100 have been captured by rebels” in Idlib and Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The reports come a second day into clashes in opposition areas of the northern and northwestern provinces between ISIL and rebel alliances, which include the massive Islamic Front and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front.
Jihadists who flocked to Syria to join the rebels in their fight against al-Assad were at first welcomed by the armed opposition. However, relations grew bitter after ISIL fought other opposition groups for control, and committed systematic abuses against activists and rival rebels, as well as ordinary citizens.
Al-Assad’s regime has branded both rebels and peaceful activists as “terrorists” since the start of an uprising against him in March 2011.
However, in the past 48 hours, anti-al-Assad activists have described the escalation against ISIL as a new “revolution” in Syria, given ISIL’s increasing number of kidnappings, beheadings and other abuses.
Rival rebels have “seized checkpoints, bases and weapons from ISIL” in Aleppo and Idlib, the observatory said.
ISIL was reported to have kidnapped, beaten and executed dozens of rival rebels and activists since it appeared in Syria, establishing a reign of terror in areas it controls.
It has forced girls to wear the veil to school, and lashed and executed people — including children — on accusations of heresy.
The escalation comes as the nascent Army of Mujahidin, a new rebel alliance, declared all-out war on ISIL.
“We, the Army of the Mujahidin, pledge to defend ourselves and our honor, wealth and lands, and to fight ISIL, which has violated the rule of God, until it announces its dissolution,” the new alliance of eight groups said.
It demanded ISIL fighters either join the ranks of other rebel groups “or hand over their weapons and leave Syria.”
The opposition said it supports the rebels’ efforts, while calling on “the international community to recognize the importance of supporting revolutionary forces as partners in the fight” against both al-Qaeda and al-Assad.
The coalition presidency said it “fully supports ongoing efforts by Free Syrian Army elements to liberate towns and neighborhoods from the authoritarian oppression” of ISIL.
On Saturday, ISIL gave the forces aligned against it 24 hours to stop their attacks, release their prisoners and remove checkpoints, or it would withdraw from Aleppo, allowing government forces to enter.
“The withdrawal of the Islamic State from any of those points will mean the invasion ... by the criminal regime,” an ISIL statement obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group said.