BEIRUT: Fresh fighting between the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and a coalition of rebels and Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in eastern Syria has left at least 45 fighters dead, an anti-regime monitoring group said Monday.
ISIS, which grew from a former Al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, has faced a backlash among the opposition since early 2014 and is battling a coalition including Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front as well as Islamist and moderate rebels.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes in the town of Khasham in the eastern Deir al-Zor province began Sunday and raged through the night, leaving 17 Nusra and Islamist fighters dead, along with 28 ISIS members.
Anti-regime activists from Deir al-Zor province have posted a video on YouTube, purporting to show ISIS militants using mortar bombs to target Khasham residents who were fleeing the violence.
The rival sides have made near-daily claims of seizures of villages and small towns in both Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces, as the territory quickly changes hands.
Pro-opposition media outlets have warned of even more misery for residents of the battered city of Deir al-Zor, as ISIS cuts water and food supplies to bolster its blockade.
Also Monday, an explosion targeted an ISIS headquarters in the city of Raqqa, the group’s principal stronghold, but no information about casualties was available.
It followed rare regime airstrikes the day before, targeting two government buildings in Raqqa used by the militant group as headquarters and a prison.
ISIS was initially welcomed by some in the armed opposition, but its harsh interpretation of Islam and abuses against civilians and rival opposition fighters sparked a backlash. Al-Qaeda’s chief has called on the group to return to Iraq, and Nusra has turned against it. The campaign against ISIS has killed some 6,000 people since it began in early January, according to the Observatory.