(Adds rebels blowing up ISIL base, weekend death toll)
By Erika Solomon
BEIRUT Feb 10 An al Qaeda splinter group has
withdrawn its forces from Syria's oil-rich eastern province of
Deir al-Zor, activists and rebels said on Monday, after days of
heavy fighting with its rivals.
Rebel groups, including al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate the
Nusra Front, have been battling the Islamic State of Iraq and
the Levant (ISIL) for control of towns and oilfields Deir
"The ISIL fighters have almost completely withdrawn from
Deir al-Zor. The fighters are moving to Hassaka and Raqqa
(provinces)," said a source from the Nusra Front, who asked not
to be named. Raqqa remains an ISIL stronghold.
ISIL activists on Twitter said the group had pulled out of
Deir al-Zor to prevent further bloodshed among rebel factions
who are supposed to be fighting Syrian President Bashar
ISIL's supporters said the estimated 200 fighters leaving
Deir al-Zor would probably turn to assassinations and car
bombings against the remaining rebel groups in the province - a
tactic the group has used in other opposition-held areas.
Several Islamist and more secular rebel groups teamed up
last month for an offensive to try to push their former ISIL
allies out of rebel-held regions in northern and eastern Syria.
Activists in Deir al-Zor posted videos on the Internet that
showed the main ISIL headquarters in the province collapse into
a cloud of dust as rebels blew up the building.
ISIL, which has attracted many foreign militants into its
ranks, is a small but powerful fighting force in Syria, and also
operates in neighbouring Iraq. It has alienated many civilians
and opposition activists by imposing harsh rulings against
dissent, even beheading its opponents, in areas it controls.
More than 2,300 rebels have been killed in the past month of
infighting, making it the bloodiest such episode since the
Syrian conflict began nearly three years ago.
Peaceful anti-Assad protests in March 2011 drew a violent
response from the security forces, leading to an armed revolt
that degenerated into a civil war now estimated to have killed
more than 130,000 people and forced millions to flee their
Dozens of people were killed in fighting between ISIL and
its rivals at the weekend. In one incident, an ISIL suicide car
bomber blew himself up among a crowd of civilians and fighters
near a market, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights, killing more than 20, including six children.
ISIL is a rebranded version of al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq,
but it has defied the main network's requests to limit itself to
fighting there instead of Syria. Al Qaeda's central leadership
formally announced a split with ISIL earlier this month.
The Observatory, a British-based pro-opposition monitoring
group, said Deir al-Zor was now in the hands of Nusra fighters
as well as those from 10 other rebel groups.
"There were heavy clashes. ISIL asked for mediation but the
Nusra Front rejected that, so it pulled out," he said.
Some activists said one of ISIL's Deir al-Zor leaders, known
as Abu Ther al-Iraqi, was captured by rebels on Monday.
Unlike other Islamist groups such as Nusra, which share
similar austere interpretations of Islam, ISIL has tried to set
up an Islamic caliphate in territory it has seized in Iraq and
Syria. Other Syrian rebels want to topple Assad before deciding
on a ruling system, though many also want an Islamic government.
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)