New Battles Rage Near City of Aleppo as Syrian Insurgents Struggle to Push Back ISIS Militants

Fighters of  al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant parade at Syrian town of Tel Abyad

Syrian insurgents rushed reinforcements into combat on Tuesday against rival Islamic State militants who have seized crucial territory near the northern city of Aleppo in recent days, building on the momentum the group has achieved in other battlefield successes in Syria and Iraq.

Amid increased fears that Aleppo could be the next big prize to fall to the Islamic State in the latest twist to the four-year-old Syrian civil war, Syrian opposition leaders accused the government of essentially collaborating with the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by bombing other rival insurgent groups, even though the government and Islamic State say they are enemies.

Khaled Khoja, the president of the main Syrian exile opposition group, accused the government of President Bashar al-Assad of deploying his warplanes “as an air force for ISIS.”

The new fighting, reported by non-Islamic State insurgents in Syria, came amid mounting frustration that the American-led coalition formed to fight the Islamic State last year had not come to their aid with airstrikes.

It also provided the backdrop for a strategy meeting of anti-Islamic State countries in Paris that ended on an indecisive note. While saying more needed to be done, the members could agree only to continue with the current policy of training moderate rebel groups opposed to both the Assad government and the Islamic State.

The Twitter account of the long-closed United States Embassy in Syria made its strongest statement yet, supporting what President Assad’s adversaries have long contended: that the government and ISIS were collaborating against relatively moderate rebel groups.

“Reports indicate that the regime is making airstrikes in support of #ISIL’s advance on #Aleppo, aiding extremists against Syrian population,” the embassy said in a series of Twitter posts, adding in another that government warplanes were “not only avoiding #ISIL lines, but, actively seeking to bolster their position.”

American officials and Syrian insurgents have yet to prove such a direct coordination.

But insurgents said the episode provided by far the strongest indication of potential coordination.

“It was never this blatant,” said Abu Abdo Salabman, a spokesman for the Sham Revolutionary Brigades, a rebel group that had sent reinforcements to the battle. “The whole thing started with a combination of aerial and then long-range artillery fire from the regime on the rebels, then ISIL started their advancements. There is clear advanced coordination this time and not just a side trying to take advantage of the other.”

He added that government airstrikes were continuing on the non-Islamic State insurgents. “Until now they are being bombed by air and ISIS isn’t,” he said. He also said that his faction had provided coordinates of Islamic State positions to the United States, but that there was no sign the Americans would take action.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Anne Barnard