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 in the area, sparking a
spate of car bombs in the province.
"The ISIL fighters have almost completely withdrawn from Deir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 the stronghold of ISIL.
Pro-ISIL activists on Twitter said the group had withdrawn from Deir
al-Zor to prevent further bloodshed.
Several rebel groups launched a campaign last month to try to push
ISIL forces, their former allies, out of opposition-held regions in
northern and eastern Syria.
Islamist opposition groups joined forces with some secular rebel
units to fight ISIL, with whom they have territorial disputes and
ISIL, which has attracted many foreign Islamist militants into its
ranks, is a small but powerful fighting force in Syria's opposition
areas. It has alienated many civilians and opposition activists,
however, by imposing harsh rulings against dissent in areas it
controls, such as beheadings.
Over a month of clashes killed more than 2,300 rebels, making it the
bloodiest episode of infighting in Syria's nearly three-year
Syria's crisis began as street protests against President Bashar
al-Assad but grew into an armed insurgency after his security forces
cracked down on demonstrations.
It has now degenerated into a civil war that has killed more than
100,000 people, forced millions to flee their homes, and is
destabilizing neighboring countries as well.
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ISIL is the rebranding of al Qaeda's affiliate in neighboring Iraq,
but it defied the central leadership's requests to limit itself to
fighting there instead of Syria. Al Qaeda's central leadership
formally announced a split with ISIL earlier in February.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring
group, said Deir al-Zor was now in the hands of Nusra fighters as
well as 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 also detained by rebels on Monday.
Efforts to mediate between ISIL and other rebel groups, even
Islamist forces with similar religious views, have failed.
Unlike other Islamist groups such as Nusra, which follow similar
austere interpretations of Islam, ISIL was trying to set up an
Islamic caliphate in territory it seized in Iraq and Syria. Other
Syrian rebel forces want to topple Assad and then determine a ruling
system for Syria, though many want an Islamic government.
(Editing by Elizabeth Piper)
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