Beirut: A newly-formed Syrian rebel alliance has declared war on the powerful Al Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and joined other opposition groups in battling the extremists.
“We, the Army of the Mujahideen, pledge to defend ourselves and our honour, wealth and lands, and to fight ISIL, which has violated the rule of God, until it announces its dissolution,” said the new alliance of eight groups, in a statement published on Facebook on Friday.
The alliance demanded that ISIL fighters either join the ranks of other rebel groups “or hand over their weapons and leave Syria.”
The alliance accused ISIL of “spreading strife and insecurity ... in liberated [rebel] areas, spilling the blood of fighters and wrongly accusing them of heresy, and expelling them and their families from areas they have paid heavily to free” from Al Assad’s regime.
The Army of Mujahideen also accused ISIL of theft and looting, and of “kidnapping, killing and torturing [rebel] commanders and activists,” echoing repeated complaints among opposition ranks against the Al Qaida affiliate.
The newly-formed group is made up of eight small to medium-sized brigades, and it was not immediately clear how many fighters it commanded.
But as the statement was issued it fought fierce clashes against ISIL in the Aleppo and Idlib provinces of northern Syria.
The Islamic Front, the largest rebel alliance, which is made up of several powerful Islamist groups, and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, another major rebel bloc, also battled ISIL on Friday.
Elsewhere in northern Syria, an unidentified group seized five people working for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) from a house, the Paris-based humanitarian organisation said.
Protesters turned out in rebel areas chanting the strongest slogans yet against the ISIL, as tensions soar between the opposition and the Al Qaida affiliate.
Ammar, an activist on the ground, described it as “the start of the revolution against ISIL”, which operates in Iraq and Syria.
Meanwhile, a key group within Syria’s mainstream opposition National Coalition stressed on Friday that it will not attend peace talks scheduled for later this month in Switzerland.
“After meetings with many international delegations in recent weeks ... the Syrian National Council [SNC] confirms it sees no reason to attend the Geneva conference,” SNC member Samir Nashar said by telephone.
Nashar also forecast that the National Coalition, which has still not taken a definitive decision, would similarly not show up.
After months of delays, a January 22 date for the peace talks has been set, but doubts remain about whether the conference will go ahead.
The Coalition is set to hold its next general assembly meeting in Istanbul on Sunday and Monday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce fighting between rebels and ISIL in flashpoints of Aleppo city and province on Friday.
In Aleppo and nearby Idlib, 16 pro-Qaida fighters were reported killed.
In Idlib alone, at least 42 ISIL fighters were wounded and 20 other civilians hurt in the crossfire, while in Aleppo, a media activist was killed while covering the fighting.
Both the Islamic Front and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, two key alliances formed last year that group tens of thousands of fighters, condemned ISIL.
“We call on ISIL to withdraw immediately from Atareb ... and remind them that those who freed Atareb [from Assad’s regime] are those you are fighting today,” said the Islamic Front.
Abu Leyla, an Idlib-based activist, said via the Internet: “I’d say about 90 per cent of people in the opposition areas are against ISIL. They use violence and abuses to crush dissent. They are only Islamic in name. All they want is power.”
Syria’s main opposition National Coalition and activists on the ground have accused ISIL of serving the interests of Al Assad’s regime by tarnishing the image of the uprising, which began as a popular movement calling for democratic reform.
Al Assad’s regime has long referred to all of its opponents — peaceful activists and rebels alike — as “terrorists” in a bid to deter more forceful Western intervention in the conflict.