Heavy fighting between rival insurgent factions in eastern Syria has forced more than 60 thousand people to flee their homes over the past few days. That’s according to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
According to the monitoring group, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a breakaway al Qaeda group, and the Nusra Front have been fighting over control of territory previously taken from the Syrian government forces. The Voice of Russia talked to Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow at Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Program.
The two rebel groups have repeatedly clashed over oil fields and strategic positions in the desert province bordering Iraq.
The Observatory, which monitors the Syrian conflict through a network of sources, said the Nusra Front had taken over control of the town of Abreeha from the rival rebel faction.
At least 62 fighters were killed in around four days of clashes in the area.
In the southern Deraa province, the Nusra Front arrested rebel commander Ahmed al-Neamah, accusing him of delivering a nearby town to the government forces. He reportedly had been working to unify local rebel units and appeared in an online video, criticizing ‘extremists’ and saying the Western-backed Free Syrian Army would rule Syria and ensure democracy.
At least 150,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war. The conflict started in May 2011 as protests against President Bashar al-Assad.
On Sunday, Syria’s Supreme Constitutional Court announced that Mr.Assad and two other candidates will compete in the presidential vote scheduled for June 3.
The court says only three of 24 candidates met the legal requirements to run in the elections, which are widely expected to be won by the country’s incumbent President.
Did the infighting between the Syrian insurgent groups deal a serious blow to the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad?
It is not what is happening in Syria should be seen in a more comprehensive manner. The blows are being made to the opposition are mainly in Aleppo. What is happening there is very serious and the regime is committing crimes by bombarding civilians and 2 days ago there was a school that was hit. I think that is where there should be more concern about. What is happening is a fight between two al-Qaeda affiliated groups, which in a way have relations with the regime as well, it is very unclear what is the role of regime in this fighting between the two al-Qaeda groups. But what is certain is that these are not part of opposition to president Assad regime. The official opposition that is the Free Syrian Army, is in different areas.
Do you think the rift between the rival groups is deepening?
I think that it is not realistic to expect the unity among the opposition in Syria and the rift between these rival groups is basically these two al-Qaeda groups. So, it is not really a rift within the opposition. It is a rift between al-Qaeda groups that are fighting each other but also mainly fighting the opposition. They are very rarely fighting the regime. So, I don’t think I would count them as an opposition.
What are the insurgents’ chances to reach a common ground and unite against Syria’s government forces?
I think that this unity among the insurgency is part of its strength and there is no need for absolute unity against the government forces because these are different groups and they have different objectives. So, I don’t see that there is going to be a totally unified opposition under one leadership against the regime.
Can the Nusra Front or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant win the war against Assad alone?
You are still concentrating on two groups which are Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq.
Those groups are quite strong, aren’t they?
Not really. These groups are formed by al-Qaeda terrorists that have been released by the Assad regime from the jails very early on when the revolt happened and they were joined by other al-Qaeda terrorists, which have been also released from the prison in Iraq. And these two groups mainly fight each other and fight the opposition. They do no really fight the regime. In a sense, especially the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria mainly fights the opposition and the regime has never bombed the opposition. Their headquarters are in a very clear obvious place in Raqqah. And the regime has bombed schools a couple of miles away from that headquarter but never bombed that headquarter. So, I don’t think the situation is as clear as it is presented that the opposition is mainly these two groups. So, I think one has to look a little bit deeper at what is happening there.