by Valerie Szybala
The situation is changing rapidly in northern Syria as rebel fighters have launched widespread attacks against the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in dozens of locations in Idlib and Aleppo provinces. The situation began on the night of Thursday January 2nd, when ISIS tried to storm the town of Atareb in Aleppo. Friday saw widespread protests across Syria against ISIS, even in locations in the south such as Damascus and Deraa, which is unusual. Concurrently, violent clashes broke out across northeastern Syria as rebel forces attacked ISIS fighters.
In addition to the ISIS incursion into Atareb, citizens and rebel fighters have been increasingly upset over ISIS persecution in northern Syria. One of the most recent incidents includes the abduction, torture, and killing of the Ahrar al-Sham member Dr. Hussein al-Suleiman (aka Abu Rayyan), whose mutilated body was found on Wednesday, January 1. Many of the protests on Friday included slogans such as “We are all the shaheed Abu Rayyan,” which alluded to the anger over his death. In at least one village, ISIS opened fireon unarmed protestors. ISIS also recently attacked media activists in the village of Kafrnabel, the “voice of the uprising,” which has become a symbol of the Syrian revolution for its stream of witty slogans and caricatures. There have also been violent confrontations between Ahrar al-Sham and ISIS in Maskanah, Aleppo in recent weeks.
Additionally, many Syrians hold the suspicion that ISIS is actually working with the regime, claiming that the Syrian military does not attack ISIS-held positions. These rumors have been flying wildly around socialmedia sitesin recent days as anti-ISIS sentiment bubbled to the surface, along with politicalcartoons and hashtags.
Actions taken against ISIS include the arrest of its fighters and commanders, negotiationsfor ISIS to leave certain areas, and violent confrontations. In many areas fierce battles between ISIS and rebel groups are still ongoing, and ISIS has begun using car bombs against rebel fighters. Chaos has reportedly engulfed Jarablus, which is the town which ISIS possibly had the strongest control over, with everyone including the Kurds rebelling against ISIS fighters who have started actingerratically according to sources in the area.
The three major rebel coalitions involved in the attacks on ISIS, the: Islamic Front, Jaysh al-Mujahideen, and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, have all issued statements detailing their grievances with ISIS and making demands for ISIS to withdraw. These groups include Islamic factions, FSA-affiliated groups, and there are even indications that Jabhat al-Nusra is involved.
In response ISIS has reportedly pulled out of several towns that it controlled - including Atmeh and ad-Dana – without a fight, and is bringing in reinforcementsfrom western provinces. This indicates that a large counteroffensive is imminent and the rebels of northern Syria may not have long to revel in their victories before ISIS hits back hard.
This fighting in Syria comes at the same time when ISIS has gone on the offensive across the region. In Iraq they have launchedoffensivesto take urban centers. ISIS has also released a statement claiming responsbility for a deadly suicide bombing targeting Hezbollah in southern Beirut on January 2nd.
Although there have been clashes and disputes between ISIS and other rebel groups before in Syria, the scale of what is happening right now is unprecedented. This situation is still incredibly fluid and volatile. Further updates will be posted as the details become clearer.