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Syria rebels push Qaeda affiliate from northwest stronghold
By REUTERS
17/01/2014
 

BEIRUT - Syrian rebels ousted an al-Qaida-linked faction from one of its northwestern bastions on Friday, activists said, a significant blow to the group after two weeks of infighting that has undercut the insurgency against President Bashar Assad.

Rebels from Islamists to relatively secular moderates have been fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) faction in the worst internecine violence to break out since Syria's conflict began in 2011.

The fighting since the start of January has killed over 1,000 people, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitors, and helped Assad's forces claw back territory around the northern commercial hub of Aleppo.

On Friday, the Observatory and activists said ISIL had pulled out of the northern town of Saraqeb, strategically important because it straddles highways connecting Aleppo, the capital Damascus and Assad's coastal stronghold of Latakia.

"They burned their cars before the withdrawal and pulled out after covering fire from a brigade loyal to them," the Britain-based Observatory said.

Rival insurgents - including many from the Islamic Front, a large alliance of some of Syria's most powerful rebel groups - had been fighting to take the town for days and moved tanks and machinegun-mounted pickups against ISIL about a week ago.

A Saraqeb-based activist said ISIL's position weakened when an allied brigade pulled out to protect the nearby town of Sarmin, also under siege by the Islamic Front.

A local commander of the Nusra Front - another al-Qaida-linked group which has clashed with ISIL in some areas - said fighters from Nusra and from the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, yet another grouping in the fractured insurgency, would take over military sites and checkpoints while ISIL and the Islamic Front would withdraw.

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