BEIRUT: Tribesmen have risen up against the extremist Islamic State group in eastern Syria, forcing it to withdraw from three villages after heavy clashes that left more than a dozen people dead, activists said Saturday.
It was the first sign of local resistance to the extremist group since its fighters captured large parts of the oil-rich eastern province of Deir al-Zour in recent weeks.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Turkey-based activist Mustafa Osso said the group was forced to bring in reinforcements from neighboring Iraq after members of the Shueitat tribe drove jihadi fighters out of the villages of Kishkieh, Abu Hamam and Granij.
The Observatory, a Britain-based group relying on activists inside Syria, said tribesmen torched the local headquarters of the Islamic State in the nearby town of Ashara and that residents held a demonstration against the group.
Osso and the Observatory said fighting first broke out Wednesday after jihadis detained three tribesmen, allegedly breaking an agreement between the two sides reached after Islamic State fighters captured the villages.
The Al-Qaeda breakaway Islamic State took over large swaths of western and northern Iraq in June. The group has declared a self-styled caliphate in territory it controls along the Iraqi-Syrian border, imposing a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
"There has been wide resentment recently because of Islamic State's acts," said Osso, who is in contact with activists in different parts of Syria. He said one of the group's top commanders, an ethnic Chechen known as Omar al-Shishani, is believed to be leading the jihadis in the area.
Osso added: "This is a very important area for Islamic State because it is rich with oil and borders Iraq."
The Observatory said tribesmen captured the nearby Tanak oil field Friday. It added that the Islamic State had sent a large number of fighters from the Iraqi border town of Qaim to reinforce the group's positions.
The Observatory said four days of fighting left nine jihadis, three tribesmen and five civilians dead.