Alliances are forged and break down as Islamic State and Assad close in on rebel stronghold
A number of opposition groups in Aleppo have allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) as Syrian government and IS forces close in on the rebel stronghold.
The reports are unconfirmed and stem from the twitter accounts of IS-supporters, but, if true, they would mark a split within the ranks of the largest Islamist coalition of fighters which is led by the Islamic Front and does not include IS fighters.
HyperTerrorist told Middle East Eye that the information came from sources in Aleppo.
The news comes as reports come in that the Assad regime has begun air strikes on Marea, a town in northern Aleppo.
The IS militants, who have seized towns and villages in Iraq and Syria over the past year, launched a lightning offensive last week in northern Aleppo province, until now the centre of rebel strength, in order to cut off the rebels' supply route from adjoining Turkey.
The militants, who punish their enemies with beheadings, crucifixions and stoning, on Saturday vowed their "determination to free the northern province (Aleppo) and chase out the rebels."
In past week, IS fighters captured 10 villages and neighbourhoods near Aleppo.
A Syrian news agency has reported that the Syrian army has launched airstrikes on IS positions in Dapeq, a town near the Turkish border.
IS attacks in northern Aleppo are thought to be led by Abu Wahib (Shaker Wahib al-Fahdawi), who has become a minor celebrity among IS fans for his charisma and ubiquitous presence among IS fighters.
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) August 17, 2014
Syrian news sources have said the Syrian army is still advancing on Aleppo city with fighting taking place in the al-Zahraa neighbourhood. And, in spite of the announced defections, a video by the Islamic Front purports to show troops heading into Aleppo to combat IS, leaving anti-Assad and anti-IS forces rallying to defend Aleppo on both front.
Reports are also coming in that the secular Free Syrian Army is also engaging IS in areas taken over by IS north of Aleppo.
The al-Nusra Front, the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, are said to be fighting IS north of Aleppo, with the BBC’s Paul Wood reporting that al-Nusra are the primary force stopping the IS advance.
One IS-supporter on Twitter has claimed that al-Nusra conducted a suicide bombing against an IS checkpoint on Monday.
IS and the Al-Nusra have had a strained relationship after the former was disowned by al-Qaeda’s Pakistan-based leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for its extreme tactics.
Although there have been reports of local al-Nusra fighters joining with IS, the official policy from both groups is to fight each other, with IS brutally expelling the al-Nusra Front from Deir Ezzor in July.
Aleppo has been one of the main bases of opposition to the Assad government, with fighting raging in the city since 2012.
The introduction of violent Islamist groups like IS and al-Nusra into the conflict has caused tensions and in-fighting among opposition groups.
IS have declared that they plan to expand even further, though in Iraq they have been targeted by Kurdish forces and, more recently, US airstrikes.
A photo released by IS claims to show the areas they currently control across the Middle East: