BEIRUT: New clashes erupted in eastern Syria between rebels seeking President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster and a jihadist group that has captured swathes of territory in neighboring Iraq, a monitor said Tuesday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday night’s fighting broke out when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant “tried to push an advance” in the village of Basira, located in the east of Deir Ezzor province close to Iraq.
Blasts went off as the ISIL militants targeted the rebel brigades and their Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front allies in the oil-rich province, said the Observatory.
ISIL, which aims to establish an Islamic emirate straddling Iraq and Syria, first emerged in Syria in 2013, two years into the conflict between forces loyal to President Assad and those fighting to oust him.
Some of Syria’s armed opposition originally welcomed ISIL to the battle, but its abuses and quest for dominance sparked a backlash that in January escalated into open hostilities with moderate and Islamist rebels backed by Al-Nusra.
While ISIL has been pushed out of Idlib province in the northwest and much of Aleppo in the north, it remains firmly in control of Raqa province and has a strong presence in Hasakeh and Deir Ezzor.
In Deir Ezzor, fighting has been intermittent, and paused for two weeks until Monday night, a week after jihadists led by ISIL launched an offensive in neighboring Iraq.
As well as the fighting, Deir Ezzor’s Shmeytiyeh village also saw a car bomb attack targeting a base belonging to Al-Nusra and Islamist rebel brigades fighting ISIL, killing seven of their fighters.
The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 as a peaceful uprising, but it exploded into a full-blown civil war when Assad’s forces launched a massive crackdown on dissent.
As the war has evolved, the regime air force has become a key weapon in the fighting, despite repeated criticism by human rights groups.
Air raids on Aleppo’s rebel-held Sukkari neighborhood on Monday killed 32 people, including two children and two members of the neighborhood’s opposition local council, the Observatory, updating its earlier tolls.
More than 160,000 people are estimated to have been killed, and millions of people have been uprooted by the violence.