AMMAN (Reuters) - A rebel group affiliated with al Qaeda overran a Syrian town near the border with Turkey on Wednesday after fighting broke out with units of the Arab- and Western-backed Free Syrian Army, opposition activists said.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant stormed the town of Azaz, 5 km (2 miles) from the Syrian-Turkish border and killed at least five Free Syrian Army members, they said, adding 100 people were arrested.
The fighting is the most severe since tensions mounted earlier this year between the rebel factions fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
It could pose a dilemma for the Turkish government, which has been allowing militant Islamist fighters to cross into Syria from its territory, but may not be keen to see a formidable al Qaeda presence so close to its border.
Azaz is 30 km (20 miles) north of Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial and industrial hub. Aleppo has been a frequent target for air raids and missile strikes by Assad’s forces, is also adjacent to a border crossing with Turkey.
Activist Abu Louay al-Halabi said the fighting broke out after the Storm of the North Brigade, a Free Syrian Army unit, resisted attempts by the Islamic State to abduct a German doctor working as a volunteer at a private hospital Azaz.
“By taking Azaz, the Islamic State is a step closer to controlling the crossing. Its objective seems to be taking over the whole countryside north of Aleppo,” he said.
Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Janet Lawrence