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September 20, 2017

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Syrian rebels launch attacks on al-Qaida linked organization

BEIRUT--Syrian rebels and activists have launched a second "revolution" nearly three years into the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, this time against a powerful al-Qaida affiliate accused of brutal abuses.

Battles have raged for two days across Northern Syria since the newly formed Army of Mujahedeen declared war on the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with two massive rebel alliances joining the battle against the extremist group.

"The revolution has returned to its true path, and the rays of the sun have started to shine on Syria," Ibrahim al-Idelbi, an activist from the war-torn country's northwest with close ties to the rebels, wrote on his Facebook page.

"Jan. 3, 2014: The revolution against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant begins," wrote coastal Latakia's Ammar, also on Facebook.

Activists and rebels have long accused ISIL of imposing a reign of terror on areas under its control, including public executions and the kidnapping, torture and assassination of rival rebels and civilians.

Some have gone so far as to accuse the group of colluding with the Assad regime to tarnish the image of the initially peaceful uprising and deter Western nations from intervening more forcefully on the rebels' behalf.

The latest fighting appeared to have been ignited by the torture and murder this week of Dr. Hussein al-Sleiman, known as Abu Rayyan, a popular medic.

'People have had enough'

An activist in Idlib who goes by the name Abu Leyla said ISIL "only benefits the Assad regime," which has long insisted that all its opponents — peaceful activists and rebels alike — are "terrorists."

"They have taken over roads from local fighters and then withdrawn, opening the way to the army. They take over border crossings to control arms shipments for the rebels. People have had enough," Abu Leyla said.

Aron Lund, an expert on Syria's insurgency, said ISIL's vision of itself, not as a mere rebel group but as a nascent Islamic state governed by a harsh interpretation of Sharia law, has alienated other rebel groups, including less radical Islamists.

"We see what the other groups say — that they've given ISIL one chance after another, but that they keep burning their bridges," said Lund, editor of the Syria in Crisis website of the Carnegie Endowment.

The recently formed Islamic Front and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, two broad alliances that bring together tens of thousands of opposition fighters, both condemned ISIL on Friday.

"We call on ISIL to withdraw immediately from Atareb (in Northern Syria) ... and remind them that those who freed Atareb (from Assad's regime) are those you are fighting today," said the Islamic Front, Syria's largest rebel alliance.

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