Fighting resumes between Syrian rebels and Al Qaeda-linked group
Free Syrian Army rebels said they launched an offensive Thursday to retake a strategic town near the Turkish border, a day after it was seized by an Al Qaeda-linked group.
The battle over Azaz underscores the increasingly fractured state of the opposition fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. A growing conflict has emerged between mainstream rebels and Al Qaeda-linked groups, which in turn fight alongside and against them.
Azaz’s capture Wednesday by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria threatened the nearby Bab al-Salameh border crossing, which has been under opposition control for more than a year. The rebel Al Tawheed Brigade, which has been trying to mediate between the two sides, sent reinforcements, including tanks and heavy weaponry, to the crossing, which was closed Thursday.
Clashes resumed in the afternoon and continued on and off into the night after attempts to negotiate a settlement fell apart, rebels said.
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army’s Northern Storm brigade regained control of one checkpoint on the outskirts of the town, said Firas Zamot, a spokesman for the group.
“Northern Storm prepared itself last night and brought reinforcements to liberate our town,” he said. “Fighters had to leave other front lines and join our guys here.”
Activists and rebels from Azaz said the hostilities began Wednesday after Islamic State fighters attacked a hospital and tried to detain a German doctor.
A spokesman for the Tawheed Brigade, which aligns itself with the Free Syrian Army but has strong ties with rival Islamist groups, said the Islamic State alleges the other side killed two of its members. Attempts to stem the fighting in Azaz continue, he said.
Zamot said the Northern Storm would fight on until Azaz was back under Free Syrian Army control.
“It is difficult to negotiate with them,” he said of the Islamic State fighters. “We know they do not accept dialogue.”
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