Syrian mainstream rebel groups have set up a task force to defuse tensions that have led to widespread bloodletting among rival factions that killed dozens in recent weeks in rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, a prominent rebel figure said on Wednesday.
The signatories to the newly set up force include some of the so-called Free Syrian Army’s biggest brigades such as Levant Front, Nour al Din al-Zenki, Failaq al Sham, Jaish al Mujahdeen and Jaish al Islam which have thousands of fighters within their ranks, many of whom are foreign financed and armed.
Mohammad Alloush, a prominent member of the powerful Jaish al Islam, the main group in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, told Reuters his group joined the new force to avoid the spread of inter-rebel warfare.
Heavy fighting between Jaish al Islam and their rivals Failaq al Rahman, the two strongest insurgent groups in the Damascus suburbs, killed scores this week, allowing the Syrian army to gain ground and raising fears of wider internecine warfare among rival groups elsewhere in Syria.
“This force will arbitrate disputes so that our blood is not spilled and to avoid side conflicts that benefit the regime and to focus on the regime and Daesh,” Alloush said, using a derogatory Arabic word for Islamic State.
“This infighting would be catastrophic to our revolution. We don’t want it to spread,” he said, adding that the signatories have promised to contain disputes by judicial arbitration.
The groups joining the force are ideologically at odds with Syria’s al Qaeda offshoot Nusra Front. They also are fighting in countryside outside northern Aleppo near the Turkish border to prevent Islamic State militants from overrunning their territory.
Fighting has intensified in recent months among rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al Assad, due to ideological differences or turf warfare.
Alongside the fighting between rival groups in the suburbs of Damascus, Nusra Front is fighting Islamic State for control of the Palestinian Yarmouk camp in Damascus.
Tensions have escalated between Nusra and Ahrar al Sham, a major Islamist group, with mutual accusations of assassinations and kidnappings.
In southern Syria, bloody fighting has gone on for weeks among hardline rebels suspected of harbouring ties to Islamic State and moderate Western-backed FSA groups. Dozens have been killed on either side with ferociousness in fighting not seen when they battle Syrian army troops, some rebels say.