Syria’s Western-backed opposition coalition said an Islamist militant group with ties to al-Qaeda has switched from fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to battling for control of rebel-held territories.
The presence of al-Qaeda-linked militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in “liberated areas, poses a threat to civilians,” the Syrian National Coalition said in a statement on its website. The statement came after clashes between the militants and the Western-backed Free Syrian Army for control of the northern town of Azaz.
The rising influence of Islamist militants in Syria’s war has undermined calls from the FSA for supplies of advanced military equipment from the West to topple Assad, who bills the conflict as a battle with religious extremists. The two main al-Qaeda affiliates, the Nusra Front and the ISIL, rely on non-Syrian fighters and seek to establish an Islamic state in the country, according to security analysts in the Middle East and Europe.
The ISIL is “linked to an external agenda and is calling for the establishment of a new state within the Syrian state,” the opposition coalition said in the statement. It accused the militants of “oppressive measures” against civilians, including doctors, journalists and political activists.
The FSA and fighters from the ISIL have reached a cease-fire agreement in Azaz, according to a statement yesterday from the the U.K-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, which tracks developments in the war.
In a separate development, Assad’s army said it killed militants including fighters from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the state-run Sana news agency reported today, citing an unidentified military official. It identified the Saudis as Abdulaziz al-Qahtani and Mashour al-Farqan al-Dousari.
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