Rebel fighters and inhabitants of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo demonstrate with a pre-Baath Syrian flag, used by the Syrian opposition, in front of a compound rebels seized from the al-Qaeda-linked group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. / MOHAMMED WESAM, AFP/Getty Images
AMMAN, Jordan ‚?? Clashes among different rebel factions in northern Syria have killed nearly 500 people and may determine the future of al-Qaeda-linked regiments fighting in the country.
The al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) has battled an informal alliance of Islamist groups for a week in north Syria.
The Islamic Front and Free Syrian Army-aligned brigades accuse ISIS of trying to hijack their rebellion against dictator Bashar Assad, whose military has battled all the opposition factions for nearly three years.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 482 people have been killed; 240 of the dead were rebel coalition fighters and 157 people were from ISIS. Eighty-five of the dead were civilians, it said.
Some analysts say the West may finally decide to send arms to the civil war if al-Qaeda loses the fight in the north.
"If the Islamic Front wins out against all the other militia, there would then be someone with whom foreign actors can engage despite the group's Salafist and anti-Western leanings," said Joshua Landis, director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "Someone would then be responsible for rebel-held Syria."
ISIS is loyal to al-Qaeda. Salafists believe in a state ruled by strict Islamic law but have not sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda.
The Islamic Front and the FSA, a collection of former Syrian military members and others, have won battles against ISIS fighters in northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Idlib, Hama and Raqqa. ISIS says it is still intact.
ISIS chief spokesman Sheik Abu Mohahmmed al-Adnani released an audio statement saying those fighting the extremist group were "envious" of ISIS' jihad and the West was trying to undermine any groups seeking to establish an Islamic state.
"Who has deceived you? Who has tricked you into fighting the mujahedin?" he said.
If the Islamic Front manages to neutralize ISIS, the United States may engage with the group, according to Faysal Itani, a fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
"I think (the U.S.) is ready," he said. "What has the U.S. established as its priorities in Syria? Keep the basic structure of the state intact ‚?? they don't want a complete state collapse ‚?? and contain Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS."
Jabhat al-Nusra has been designated a terrorist group by the United States.
"And these guys are Washington's best chance of containing al-Qaeda ‚?? in fact, their only one, as I see it," Itani said.
More violent battles between rebel groups are likely to take place in the next month, Landis said. He said ISIS was unlikely to go away even if it is expelled by rebel factions.
"Even if it is pushed out of Syria, the ISIS is built around an ideology of an Iraq and Syria unified as Islamic states ‚?? it would continue to be active in Iraq," Landis said.
This round of fighting is the product of rebel groups' growing anger at ISIS' brutality, which peaked as Hussein al-Suleimani, a doctor and commander in one of the Islamic Front's seven component militias was kidnapped, tortured and killed after having tried to negotiate with the group.
"We haven't started the fighting (against ISIS), we are merely resisting their unjust (behavior) and defending ourselves against attacks on us by these groups with all available means," said Islam Alloush, spokesman for the Islamic Front.
Dumalaon reported from Berlin.
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
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