Syria’s major coalition of Islamist rebels rejects Qaeda allegiance vow

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A major coalition of Islamist rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has denounced Al-Nusra Front’s pledge of allegiance to Al-Qaeda, urging insurgents to unite behind moderate Islam.

“When we in Syria launched our jihad (holy war) against the sectarian regime, we did not do so for the sake of allegiance to a man here or another there,” said the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF) in a statement late on Thursday.

It also rejected “imposing anything on (Syria’s) fighters and the people that they were not willing” to accept, said the statement posted on Facebook.

The SILF comprises some 20 rebel groups, and is represented in the mainstream rebel army’s command council.

It includes Liwa al-Tawhid, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Islam and the Farouk brigade, which are among the opposition’s most prominent insurgent forces.

Meanwhile, fierce clashes between Syrian forces and Islamist rebels broke out in the northeast Syrian city of Qamishli on Friday as the opposition fighters controlled some parts of the city for the first time, activists said.

Syrian activists claimed that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has entered Qamishli, located in Al-Hasaka province neighboring Turkey, for the first time, and targeted Syrian government’s forces as well as the city’s airport.

The monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that fresh clashes between troops loyal to President Assad and Islamist rebels of Al-Nusra Front also took place on Friday.

“Fierce battles broke out between regime troops and Al-Nusra Front near Zuri square at the entrance to Qamishli and near the city’s airport, leaving several dead on both sides,” AFP quoted the Observatory as saying.

Elsewhere, regime troops pounded Tawq Melh and Tal Hamis in the majority Kurdish province of Hasake, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its reports.

The fighting came a day after Assad’s regime called on the U.N. Security Council to class Al-Nusra Front as an Al-Qaeda-linked group, after its head pledged allegiance this week to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In Damascus, mortar shells hit the sprawling Souk al-Hal fruit and vegetable market, killing one person and wounding several others, said the Observatory.

In clashes with the Syrian troops in the central province of Homs, the opposition fighters described what they called the “biggest intervention” by Lebanon’s militant movement, Hezbollah.

Hezbollah backed the Syrian regime against the rebels in around the town of Qusair in Homs.

The Qusair area is considered vital to the Syrian regime because of its location along a road linking Damascus with the city of Homs, a strategic supply route for the military.

The province of Homs and its capital of the same name were the scenes of some of the heaviest fighting during the first year of Syrian conflict. The violence has escalated there in recent weeks, with Syrian war planes hitting the city daily.

In the past two days, troops have clashed with rebels on the edges of the province along the Lebanese border in some of the worst fighting in the area in months.

On Friday, sporadic explosions inside Syria could be heard from the Lebanese side of the border and an Associated Press reporter said Syrian warplanes carried out at least one airstrike inside Syrian territory.

At least 28 people were killed in violence across Syria on Friday, according to a preliminary toll, most of them in Damascus and Aleppo in the north. More than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria’s two-year conflict, the U.N. says.

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