By Peter Clifford © (http://www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-news-3)
The infighting between the more moderate Islamists of the Islamic Front (IF) and the extreme Jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) escalated over the weekend.
The Same Street in Homs 2011 and 2014
The IF, supported by the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, the nascent Army of Mujahedeen and some remaining units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched attacks against ISIL controlled towns and villages across Idlib and Aleppo provinces on Friday and Saturday.
It is here in the north that local resentment has been brewing for months against the strict regime and brutal methods of control imposed by ISIL on territories which it has often taken over after they had been earlier liberated by the FSA.
In other parts of Syria, notably around Damascus and southwards into Deraa province ISIL seems to have a better reputation and continues to cooperate with other groups of Opposition fighters.
Things came to a head recently when ISIL executed Hussein Suleiman (Scroll down – see below), a well known and popular Opposition doctor and leader, and when confronted by IF refused to hand over his killers.
In Manbij, Opposition fighters seized a compound garrisoned by ISIL but near Tal Rafaat, just north of Aleppo, ISIL ambushed an opposing Opposition convoy, killing at least 14 fighters from the Liwa al-Tawhid Brigade, which is a member of the Islamic Front.
According to reports at least 59 fighters were killed by Opposition infighting on Sunday alone, 9 of them from ISIL, more than 100 Opposition fighters killed over 3 days. ISIL, which has many foreign Jihadists amongst its numbers, has used car bombs is some cases to defend its territory.
Activists are saying that ISIL has now lost positions at Atareb, Ma’ara, Darat, Shaykh Isa , Harbul, Anjarah and Jarablos in Aleppo province and has since withdrawn from Al Dana in Idlib province and the important town of Atma on the Turkish border.
Some reports suggest that ISIL is attempting to consolidate and regroup on the Maskaneh Plain between Aleppo and Raqqah and has even threatened to pull out of the areas it controls in the eastern parts of Aleppo city, handing them over to the Assad regime.
Other reports that a huge military convoy of 16 tanks and 20 Zell troop-carriers has arrived at the Military Academy in western Aleppo is certainly not good news for the Opposition.
However, heavy clashes are reported in the Sheikh Said district of the city where Oppositition fighters are attacking the Syrian Army in a military housing complex.
JIHADISTS UNDER PRESSURE IN RAQQAH WHERE THEY FORMERLY HAD COMPLETE CONTROL – PRISONERS RELEASED:
Much of the Opposition infighting on Sunday switched to Raqqah province and Raqqah city in particular, the only regional capital completely under Opposition control.
People Walk Along a Street in Deir Ez Zour
Activists said that more than 40 fighters on both sides had been killed in clashes near the old bridge area of Raqqah and that fighting today, Monday, is concentrated around the headquarters that ISIL had established for itself in the old regime government buildings.
Along with unconfirmed reports that 70 ISIL fighters have defected, confirmed reports say that IF units captured another building in Raqqah and released 50 prisoners, including a Turkish journalist who had been missing for 2 weeks.
As many as 1500 people, many of them Opposition fighters or activists, are thought to be held by ISIL in various buildings around the Raqqah area. Video footage of the released prisoners is HERE:
Interestingly, the key Opposition force besieging the ISIL HQ in Raqqah is the Al Nusra Front (ANF), itself an Al-Qaeda affiliate, though not as extreme or brutal as ISIL. ISIL had earlier tried to force ANF to amalgamate with it, but ANF, which is largely composed of native Syrian fighters, refused to do so.
Fighting between ISIL and other Opposition forces is also reported in central Hama province and east of Deir Ez Zour. ISIL also has its hands full across the border in Iraq where it seized the 2 cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
Latest reports suggest that ISIL has since lost control of Ramadi to the Iraqi Army and is completely surrounded by them in Fallujah after a number of air strikes.
CONFLICTING VERSIONS OF “AGREEMENT OVER CEASEFIRE” IN BARZEH DISTRICT OF DAMASCUS – “AGREEMENT” OR SURRENDER?
According to widespread reports Opposition fighters in Barzeh, the northern district of Damascus which has been under bombardment by the regime for more than a year, have agreed to a local “ceasefire”.
Earlier Fighting Between the 2 Sides in Barzeh
The local council run by the Opposition said that after negotiations the Asad regime and the FSA had agreed “the withdrawal of Assad’s army from all of Barzeh, and the cleaning of the streets [of abandoned corpses], in preparation for the road to be opened” by the Opposition.
“The FSA will be the one manning traffic” through the district, which has been blocked off ever since the Opposition took over the neighbourhood, the statement added.
However, this is rather different from the version of events put out on the state run SANA website under the heading “Army units kill terrorists, destroy their weapons in Damascus Countryside”
In the SANA article the ” ceasefire agreement” is described as “A military source said that 200 gunmen from the so-called “Free Army” and Jabhat al-Nusra turned in with their weapons to the Syrian army in Barzeh neighborhood in Damascus.
The source told SANA in a statement that the army units entered the neighbourhood, seized the terrorists heavy weapons and dismantled the explosive devices planted near the citizens’ houses”. (EDITOR: That doesn’t sound like much of an “agreement” to me! Nor that the FSA is in control)
According to the Opposition the truce also optimistically envisages that residents who had fled the district will be able to return within two weeks, and that “services will be restored.”
Activists have also said that the SANA statement was untrue and designed as a tactic to “put pressure on the negotiations”.
Elsewhere in the Damascus area, the Assad regime continued dropping barrel-bombs, this time on the town of Yalda, causing at least 3 deaths and many casualties, HERE:
More video of the gas pipeline to the Dair Ali Power Generation Station that was blown up by Opposition fighters at the end of last week, has appeared, HERE:
Ahmad Jarba was re-elected on Sunday as the leader of the Opposition Syrian National Coalition, though it has not yet decided whether to take part in the forthcoming “peace talks” to be held in Switzerland on January 22nd. Discussions on this will continue today.
The Syrian National Council ( not to be confused with the “Coalition”, though an important part of it) led by George Sabra has already decided it will not attend the so-called “peace conference”), saying it will not negotiate until the Assad regime falls.
The Coalition has backed however the move by the FSA and the Islamic Front to curb the excesses of ISIL.
More trouble is certainly almost ahead for Lebanon, where Majid al-Majid (scroll down – see below), the leader of Al Qaeda there, has died in a military hospital. Majid, who is relatively young, was only identified positively as the Al Qaeda leader from DNA tests on Friday.
Apparently, he needs regular dialysis for a kidney problem and according to the Lebanese authorities he went into a coma and suffered renal failure on Saturday. The BBC has a video report, HERE:
Finally, an interesting video report from the BBC on the women fighters of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, (EDITOR: Fine looking, strong women, in my view, who will hopefully maintain their independence when the fighting ends), HERE: