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Assad aiding Islamic State, says US, as more rebel groups join anti-IS fight

Assad accused of targeting rebels opposing IS advance in Aleppo, after US-backed fighters threaten to pull out over Washington policy
Syria's President Assad is alleged to have aided the IS advance on the key northern town of Aleppo (AFP)

The US has gone on the offensive against the government of Syria’s President Assad, accusing it of aiding Islamic State (IS), as more rebel groups join the fight against the militants.

In a string of tweets published on Monday, the US Embassy in Syria said that forces loyal to Assad had launched airstrikes targeting rebels in Aleppo as IS advanced further into the key north-western town.

The embassy, which has been closed since March 2014 but still operates a Twitter account, said the strikes were a “complete contradiction” of Assad’s claims that he is attempting to block the IS advance.

US officials have long opposed Assad’s rule since the start of a bloody crackdown in 2011, frequently stating that he has lost all legitimacy to rule Syria.

However, in recent months reports have suggested that Assad could be enjoying a “pseudo-rehabilitation” among the Western powers, with the UN envoy to Syria saying in February that the embattled president is “part of the solution”.

Fresh accusations that Assad is aiding IS came the day after US-trained Syrian rebels said Washington had forbidden them from using their new weapons and battle skills against the president.

Mustafa Sejari, a founding member of the Revolutionary Command Council who is approved for the US-backed scheme, told The Daily Beast that he and his 1,000-strong battalion were on the verge of pulling out over the demand.

“It was a Department of Defence liaison officer who relayed this condition to us orally, saying we’d have to sign a form. He told us, ‘We got this money from Congress for a programme to fight ISIS only.’”

US officials have denied the allegations, saying they are not aware of having worked with Sejari.

Despite clear statements from various rebel groups confirming that toppling Assad is there top aim, there are indications on the ground that growing numbers of opposition groups are joining the anti-IS fight.

Levant Dawn, a key Islamist group fighting in Aleppo province, published a strongly-worded statement on Monday announcing war on IS, slamming the group for following “perverted doctrines”.

Levant Dawn has previously remained on the fence regarding IS, saying it wished to remain “neutral” in the face of the group’s lightning advance through large areas of Syria.

The Abu Amara Factions, another rebel group that previously refrained from taking aim at IS, also announced on Monday its opposition to IS.

Abu Firas al-Halbi, a spokesperson for the Levantine Front, told local opposition news site Orient Net that the announcements represented a “new phase” for the fight against IS.

“The revolutionaries are now awaiting a shift from the defensive phase…to one of attack and liberation,” Halbi said on Wednesday.

“There is co-operation between the factions on different fighting fronts.”

The opposition’s fight against Assad has long been hampered by fractures that have seen the battlefield joined by hundreds of separate armed groups, many of them creating a patchwork of shifting alliances during over four years of civil war.