BEIRUT: Rebels in the north and east of Syria have vowed to lay down their arms if they don’t receive help to fight Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS, as an offensive by a leading Islamist faction targets the militants in the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus.
Eleven rebel groups that are active in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Raqqa issued a statement Wednesday in which they demanded help from the opposition-in-exile National Coalition and the rebel Free Syrian Army, among other groups.
They issued a one-week deadline for the help to arrive, threatening to “throw down our weapons and pull out our fighters” if no assistance materializes.
The rebel groups singled out recent military gains by ISIS in northern Aleppo province, calling them a “threat to the Syrian revolution.”
The groups include the Raqqa Rebel Brigade and the Kurdish Front, as well as smaller, local units from areas of Aleppo province such as the town of Manbij, which has recently come under ISIS control.
ISIS this month also spearheaded an offensive in Iraq, seizing wide swaths of territory as it teamed up with groups of Iraqi Sunni insurgents, and has begun to move captured weaponry and equipment into areas it controls in Syria.
In their statement, the rebel groups also addressed their plea to the Islam Army, one of seven large militias making up the Islamic Front, which largely cooperates with mainstream rebels from the FSA.
The Islam Army has launched its own drive to oust ISIS militants from the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus.
Its leader Zahran Alloush appeared in a video on YouTube Wednesday, exhorting his men against ISIS, which this week declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Alloush called the group “khawarij,” an ultraconservative Islamic faction that took shape in the 7th century, infamous for its policy of takfir, or the belief that insufficiently pious Muslims deserved to be killed.
“This group of khawarij, the gang of [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi ... tried to destroy jihad in Afghanistan, in Chechnya, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Iraq. They have now come to try and destroy jihad in Syria,” he tells dozens of assembled fighters in the video.
In the 15-minute video, Alloush relates several instances of atrocities committed by ISIS militants in recent months, including the murder of a leading rebel commander, known as Abul-Miqdam, famous for his prowess at destroying regime tanks.
Alloush related how, in the wake of battles against regime forces in the Qalamoun region, Abul-Miqdam was seized by ISIS militants in the north of the country.
“They forced him to the ground and slit his throat,” Alloush said, referring to the widely reported incident from last month.
Alloush said he and his comrades in the north had intercepted walkie-talkie conversations between ISIS militants, many of them non-Syrians, which demonstrated their ruthlessness and often utter disregard for civilians they encountered.
“They are dirty bastards, with an evil ideology,” Alloush said.
Tuesday, fighters from the Islam Army ejected ISIS from the Ghouta town of Maydaa after three days of heavy clashes, according to pro-opposition media reports.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based, anti-regime group, said at least 14 Islam Army fighters were killed in the assault, while the number of ISIS casualties was unknown.
The reports said that Islam Army fighters found the bodies of seven men, believed to have been summarily executed by ISIS on the first day of the battle, one of them a media activist working with the rebels.
One report said 15 ISIS fighters were killed in the battles, which saw the militants retreat in the direction of Dumair, further east.
While the ISIS-led offensive in Iraq has grabbed headlines in recent weeks, Syrian rebels have been trying to muster their forces against the Al-Qaeda splinter group. The Observatory reported that seven Islamist rebels were killed Wednesday fighting ISIS in rural Deir al-Zor province, near a former stronghold of the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s official Syria franchise.
In northern Aleppo province, the Observatory said, fierce clashes pitted Islamist militias and the Kurdish Front rebels against ISIS near the villages of Ikhtarin and Rai near the border with Turkey, sparking a “large” exodus of civilians from the area.