Qaeda leader orders Syria affiliate to stop fighting rivals

Ayman al-Zawahiri tells Al-Nusra chief Abu Mohammed al-Jolani to end infighting

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Al-Qaeda’s leader ordered the group’s Syrian affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, to end fighting with jihadist rivals, in an audiotape published online Friday.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a message to Al-Nusra chief Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, ordered that “all soldiers of the front immediately cease fighting” other jihadist groups.

Powerful rebel groups in Syria, including Al-Nusra Front, have been locked in fierce fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) since January that has killed thousands of fighters.

ISIS was initially welcomed by other rebels, who have been fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011, but allegations of brutal abuses against civilians as well as rival opposition fighters sparked a backlash.

In a related story, suicide bombers blew up two vehicles in the central Syrian province of Hama on Friday, killing at least 18 people, including 11 children, state media reported.

The bombers hit the towns of Jibrin and Al-Humeiri, state television and official news agency SANA said, blaming “terrorists” for the attacks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 15 people had been killed.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the two towns targeted are majority Alawite, the religious community to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

Friday’s attack came after a double car bombing claimed by Al-Qaeda killed at least 100 people on Tuesday in a majority-Alawite district of the central city of Homs.

The bombings come in a particularly bloody week in the Syrian conflict, which also saw 33 civilians killed in the main northern city of Aleppo on Thursday when government aircraft bombed a popular market in a rebel-held district.

More than 150,000 people have been killed since protests against Assad's rule erupted in March 2011, meeting with repression that sparked an armed rebellion.

Despite the violence, authorities plan to hold a presidential election on June 3, which is expected to return Assad to office.

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