BEIRUT: New clashes have erupted in eastern Syria between rebels seeking President Bashar Assad’s ouster and the extremist group ISIS after it captured swathes of territory in Iraq, an anti-regime monitoring group said Tuesday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said Monday night’s fighting broke out when militants from ISIS “tried to push ahead with an advance” in the village of Basira, located in the east of Deir al-Zor, province close to Iraq.
Blasts went off as the ISIS militants targeted the rebel brigades and their Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front allies in the oil-rich province, said the Observatory.
ISIS, which aims to establish an Islamic emirate straddling Iraq and Syria, first emerged in Syria in 2013, two years into the conflict.
Some of the armed opposition originally welcomed ISIS to the battle, but its abuses and quest for dominance sparked a backlash that in January escalated into open hostilities with moderate and Islamist rebels backed by Nusra.
While ISIS has been pushed out of Idlib province in the northwest and much of Aleppo in the north, it remains firmly in control of Raqqa province and has a strong presence in Hassakeh and Deir al-Zor.
In Deir al-Zor, fighting has been intermittent – but it saw a noticeable slowdown for roughly two weeks until Monday night, a week after jihadists led by ISIS launched an offensive in neighboring Iraq.
As well as the fighting, the village of Shmaitieh in rural Deir al-Zor also saw a car bomb kill seven people near offices belonging to the Nusra Front and one of its allies, Ahrar al-Sham, a conservative salafist group with a network of fighters around Syria.
The Observatory said an Ahrar al-Sham commander in the area and an Islamic judge affiliated with the Nusra Front were among the victims.
In a separate attack in Deir al-Zor, an ISIS fighter detonated an explosive belt outside the home of the commander of the Saddam Hussein Brigade, a local rebel group, in the village of Huwayej.
The blast wounded the commander and killed his father, brother and a relative, the Observatory said.
Meanwhile, regime troops continued to clash with rebels based in the city of Deir al-Zor, which ISIS has sought to besiege in recent weeks, causing thousands of people to flee.
The neighborhood of Huwayqa saw clashes between rebels and regime troops, the Observatory said, while government shelling pounded the area. Details about casualties were not available, it added.
Separately, local activists posted video footage purporting to show rebels sniping at regime forces based just outside the city, and hitting one of the troops at the site.
In the neighboring Raqqa province, which has served as ISIS’ stronghold since last year, regime planes pounded the city and the town of Tabqa on the Euphrates River, but no information about casualties was available.
Government forces have stepped up their air attacks against ISIS positions in Raqqa in recent days, but anti-regime activists have said the strikes have done little to dislodge the extremist group from its positions.