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January 6, 2014

Rebels, faction fighters clash

(Continued)

BEIRUT —

The Nusra Front, which despite its al-Qaida-links has more of a Syrian bent and is seen as more moderate than the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has been trying to mediate an end to the clashes, Abdurrahman said.

Some activists hailed the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as a second “revolution,” but it seemed unlikely that the battle against the extremist group could unite the constellation of rebel brigades who have failed to forge a unified command over the nearly 3-year conflict against Assad.

While the outburst of fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is certainly significant, its current impact on the trajectory of the broader Syrian conflict is unclear. At the moment, it doesn’t appear to have wider repercussions, said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center who closely follows the conflict.

“For now, this simply represents three days of inter-factional fighting with an overtly anti-ISIS foundation,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. “Should ISIS launch a determined counter-attack, then this could come to represent a definitive moment in the Syrian conflict.”

“No matter what takes place in the coming days and weeks, ISIS will remain in Syria in some form, and should it be entirely isolated by all other key fighting groups in Syria, it’s actions will likely become even more harsh than before,” Lister said in emailed comments.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is the rebranded version of al-Qaida’s Iraqi affiliate, which emerged in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar province following the 2003-U.S. led invasion of Iraq.

Last week, the group’s fighters seized control of the key Anbar town of Fallujah, scattering Iraqi government forces. It also claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that targeted a Shiite-dominated Beirut neighborhood.

The Western-backed Syrian opposition in exile has welcomed the fighting against the Islamic State, as it sees the group as hijacking its efforts to overthrow Assad.

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