Intra-rebel clashes east of Damascus kill dozens

Despite regime onslaught, Islamist rebels turn on each other in major battle east of Syrian capital.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Syrian rebels battle regime forces in Damascus (file)
Syrian rebels battle regime forces in Damascus (file)

Bloody clashes between rebel factions in a key opposition stronghold east of Syria's capital have left 10 civilians and dozens of Islamist fighters dead, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.  

The fighting has rocked Eastern Ghouta since Thursday, despite a local freeze on hostilities between rebels and regime fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The violence has enraged the rebel stronghold's residents, dozens of whom on Tuesday gathered in several flashpoint towns to protest against the ongoing bloodshed.  

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the clashes first broke out when rebel group Faylaq al-Rahman backed by Al-Qaeda loyalists Al-Nusra Front attacked the powerful Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) faction.

"The clashes have been ongoing since Thursday as a result of a battle for influence between the Islamist factions," Abdel Rahman told AFP.

More than 400 Jaish al-Islam fighters have been detained and their weapons seized by Faylaq al-Rahman, Abdel Rahman said.

He told AFP the violence had killed at least 10 civilians and "dozens of fighters".

The local council in Beit Sawa, a town in Eastern Ghouta that has been hit by the recent fighting, called on the rival rebel groups to lay down their arms.

"We call on all the organisations to join hands to heal the wounds of our residents after this black day," the council said in a statement published on its Facebook page Tuesday.

The statement complained that farmers had been unable to harvest their fields because of nearby battles.

Jaish al-Islam is the dominant rebel group in Eastern Ghouta, and a leading political figure from the group - Mohammed Alloush - was named as the opposition's chief negotiator at peace talks in Geneva.

Syria's fractured armed opposition movement has been ravaged by infighting, particularly between jihadist groups and non-extremist rebels.

More than 270,000 people have been killed and millions have fled their homes since Syria's uprising began in March 2011 with calls for President Bashar al-Assad's ouster.  

AFP contributed this report.