September 19, 2013

Al-Qaida militants capture town in northern Syria

By 
Bassem Mroue and 
Zeina Karam / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

This citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows damaged buildings due to heavy fighting between government forces and Free Syrian Army fighters in Aleppo, Syria, on Thursday.

The Associated Press / Aleppo Media Center

"They said they came to defend the Syrian people. Now they have turned their guns away from fighting the regime to fighting the Syrian people," he said by telephone from Turkey.

Kurdish militiamen have also been fighting members of the ISIL and the Nusra Front in predominantly oil-rich, Kurdish areas of northeastern Syria. Dozens have died.

The infighting weakens both sides and bolsters Assad, whose troops have been on the offensive, gaining ground against rebels on multiple fronts.

Assad told Fox News Channel the balance of opposition forces has shifted in the more than two-year conflict, and he alleged that 80 percent to 90 percent were members of al-Qaida or its affiliates.

"At the very beginning, the jihadists were the minority. At the end of 2012 and during this year, they became the majority with the flow of tens of thousands from additional countries," he said.

Residents of rebel-held areas are also turning against extremists for their brutal tactics and for trying to impose Islamic law. There have been numerous demonstrations against the ISIL in opposition-held territory in the north.

Locals say the jihadis are forcing people to close their shops for Muslim prayers and banning the sale of cigarettes.

Ahmad Barbour, an activist in the town of Ariha in the northwestern province of Idlib, said it has gotten to the point where they consider those who carry the revolution flags infidels. Most of them are foreigners flush with cash, he said.

"Everyone hates them except for those who are benefiting financially," he said via Skype.

Also Thursday, a bus struck a roadside bomb in the village of Jbourin in the central province of Homs, killing 19 people and wounded four, said a local official from the governor's office, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The village is predominantly Alawite — an offshoot of Shiite Islam and a minority sect of which Assad is a member — but it also has Christians and Sunni Muslims.

The civil war, which has left more than 100,000 dead, has taken increasingly sectarian overtones. Most of the rebels trying to overthrow Assad belong to the majority Sunni sect.

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