AMMAN/BEIRUT: A rebel group affiliated with Al-Qaeda overran a Syrian town near the Turkish border Wednesday after fighting broke out with units of the Arab- and Western-backed Free Syrian Army, opposition activists said.
In other battles on the border, Kurdish fighters forced jihadists to pull out of the village of Aluk, in northeastern Syria, after clashes that left 21 dead on both sides.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) stormed the town of Azaz, 5 kilometers from the Syrian-Turkish border and killed at least five Free Syrian Army members, the activists said, adding 100 people were arrested.
It was the most severe fighting since tensions mounted earlier this year between the two groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
Further east, fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) took control of the village of Aluk, to the east of the town of Ras al-Ain, on the border with Turkey, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Kurdish fighters seized the village after four days of clashes with ISIS and the Nusra Front, who had entered it from the border area, the Observatory said.
YPG fighters have been battling jihadists from ISIS and the Nusra Front for months.
Syria’s Kurds have walked a careful line between the opposition and the regime, which withdrew its forces from Kurdish areas in mid-2012.
They have at times fought alongside rebel forces, but have largely refrained from joining either side, focusing instead on building autonomous zones in majority-Kurdish areas.
Elsewhere in the country, Syrian government warplanes struck rebel-held areas, and clashes between militants and government forces continued unabated Wednesday, residents and opposition groups reported.
Activists said Assad’s air force hit the Barzeh neighborhood, a northeastern part of central Damascus, where rebels are trying to push further into the city.
Airstrikes and skirmishes are occurring countrywide, but the key fight is in the capital, where Assad controls central districts but has lost suburbs.
The British-based Observatory also said warplanes hit parts of the southern Deraa province where the revolt started and that rebels and government forces clashed in the major cities of Homs, Deir al-Zor and Aleppo.
In Idlib province, which borders Turkey, the Observatory cited activists as reporting the killing and burning of 11 civilians by the army.
Syrian government forces also continued operations to regain control of the historic Christian town of Maaloula, 55 km north of Damascus. Rebels linked with Al-Waeda briefly took control of the town on Sept. 9 and Syrian loyalist forces have yet to completely retake it.