86 killed in fighting between rival rebel factions in Syria
BEIRUT // Syria’s Al Qaeda affiliate and its allies have repulsed an assault by militant rivals on a town on the Iraqi border in fighting that killed 86 people, a monitoring group said on Friday.
Sixty of the dead were fighters of Al Nusra Front or its Islamist allies killed pushing back their Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) rivals from districts of Albu Kamal they had captured early on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Observatory said the rebels regained full control of Albu Kamal after reinforcements poured in.
ISIL withdrew to the T2 oil site, 60 kilometres south-west of the town and where a Syria-Iraq pipeline runs, the Observatory said, after executing seven fighters of a rival militant Islamist brigade.
The clashes have prompted soldiers on the Iraqi side of the border to reinforce their positions.
The border crossing itself on Syria’s side remains in the hands of the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army, said a rebel chief on the Iraqi side who saw the FSA flag flying over it.
With their attack on Albu Kamal, ISIL fighters wanted to link up with their comrades over the border in Iraq, said the Observatory.
Iraqi troops put up blast walls and sand berms on their side of the crossing as a precaution.
Albu Kamal has been under the control of fighters opposed to the Damascus regime since November 2012, but Al Nusra and its allies forced out former ISIL allies in heavy fighting in late February.
Thousands were killed in battles in several regions of Syria in January and February pitting ISIL against its rivals and nominal allies in the anti-Assad revolt.
The Euphrates valley town of Albu Kamal had a population of some 70,000 before the start of the Syrian conflict which the Observatory says has cost more than 150,000 lives since March 2011.
Syrian troops now control just one official crossing on the Iraqi border — Al Tanaf/Al-Walid, on the main motorway to Baghdad.
A third crossing, Yarabiyah/Rabia in the north-east, is held by Kurdish militia.
Meanwhile, the transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons out of the country under an international accord is back on schedule, a maritime task force in charge of the operation said on Friday.
“After a period without loading and retrieval of chemical substances from Syria, the operation is still on schedule,” public affairs officer Simen Rudi said.
On April 4, “the security situation was considered good enough and eight new containers” were loaded onto Danish cargo ship Ark Futura in Syria’s Mediterranean port city of Latakia, Mr Rudi said.
Another seven containers were loaded on Thursday.
“This means that the operation is still on schedule, but the previously mentioned security situation will influence whether the operation is completed at the estimated time or not,” he said.
On April 3, an international coordinator told the UN Security Council that Damascus can still meet a June deadline for eliminating its chemical weapons but must resume the stalled transfers.
* Agence France-Presse