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Syria’s Nusra Front chief urges end to jihadist-rebel clashes

By AFP - Jan 07,2014 - Last updated at Jan 07,2014

BEIRUT –– The chief of Syria’s Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate, called Tuesday for an end to fighting between rebel groups and the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

In an audio recording posted on Twitter, Abu Mohamed Al Jolani announced an initiative to end the fighting, including a “ceasefire” and the establishment of an independent Islamic committee to serve as mediator.

“This unfortunate situation pushed us to launch an initiative to solve the situation,” Jolani said.

“It consists of forming a committee based on Islamic law and composed of the key brigades [and]... the establishment of a ceasefire,” he said, calling on all fighters “to give priority to the fight against the regime.”

In recent days, widespread fighting has broken out pitting coalitions of Islamist and moderate rebel forces against ISIL.

The Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, has joined the fight against ISIL in places, but Jolani said the battles were detracting from the key battle against President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The jihadist leader said some of the blame for the clashes lay with ISIL’s behaviour, but he called for a speedy end to divisions among opposition Islamist fighters.

Fighting rages

At least 34 foreign jihadists from the ISIL and an ally were killed after clashes with rival Syrian rebels, a watchdog said on Tuesday.

The jihadists had apparently been executed after the fighting in the Jabal Zawiya district of the northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The fighters, from ISIL and a group called Jund Al Aqsa, were killed by non-jihadist rebels over the past few days, the observatory said.

The deaths came amid fighting on several fronts pitting several coalitions of rebel fighters against jihadists from ISIL.

There was renewed fighting on Tuesday in the city of Raqqa, the only provincial capital outside government control and previously an ISIL stronghold, the observatory said.

The fighting centred on the provincial governor’s office, taken over by ISIL for a headquarters, and “heavy weaponry was being used”.

Both Islamists and moderate rebels have joined the fight against ISIL, which has been accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing rival rebels and civilians.

The rebels, many of them civilians who took up arms against the regime, initially welcomed the arrival of battle-hardened jihadists.

But tensions have mounted, with activists accusing ISIL of imposing a reign of terror, and rebels saying the group has focused on accumulating territory and fighting other rebels rather than battling the regime.

Elsewhere in the country, the observatory said the death toll from a government air campaign launched in Aleppo province in mid-December now topped 600, among them 172 children.

The relentless campaign has included the use of explosive-packed barrels dropped from aircraft on residential areas.

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