Daniel Abdallah writes: Three days ago, the inter-rebel fighting entered a new phase. For the first time, Salafist factions have openly publicised their attack on the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and the feircest battles have moved from the Northwest to the East of Syria. Ahrar ash-Sham (AS) and Jabhat an-Nusra (JN) – al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria – are officially at war with ISIS. The recent fighting spans many governorates, but two – Deir az-Zour and al-Hasakah – have seen the most intense fighting between ISIS and JN/AS. Concurrent attacks on ISIS have taken place in rural Aleppo and Raqqa on a smaller scale, perhaps to take advantage of ISIS’s vulnerability because it was preoccupied in the East.
Although there were previous direct engagements between AS and JN, on the one hand, and ISIS, on the other, they were never at such scale, never so exacerbated, at least, as will be shortly explained, from the AS and JN side. The most well-known precedent took place in the days leading to 12th January 2014 – the date on which Raqqa fell into the sole control of ISIS. ISIS had been surrounded in the gubernatorial palace by AS from the West and by JN from the East, and the outcome of the battle looked all but certain. Quite unexpectedly, JN fighters were informed on their radios by ISIS to ‘surrender or withdraw because AS have left the battle field and you are on your own’. For ideological reasons, AS fighters had decided not to participate in the fitna (civil discord among Muslims) and to avoid having the blood of their ‘brothers’ on their hands. They, however, were not rewarded for their attempt to remain neutral. They were captured and executed by a different ISIS force outside Raqqa, although ISIS had initially agreed to grant them safe passage. [Continue reading…]