Middle East

Syria: 'Al-Qaeda peace call' to rivals after fighting

Undated image posted on a militant website on 14/01/2014 of fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria Image copyright AP
Image caption The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is estimated to have up to 5,000 fighters

A call for reconciliation with rival Syrian rebels has been made by a group linked to al-Qaeda following fierce infighting, it has been reported.

The message apparently comes from the chief of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Fighting among rebels has cost more than 1,000 lives in the past two weeks.

Correspondents say it threatened to undermine the wider opposition effort against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

The 16-minute audio message was posted on a website used by Islamic militants on Sunday, though its authenticity has not been independently confirmed so far, the Associated Press news agency reports.

It it, Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urged Sunni Islamist rebels to focus instead on fighting the Shia enemy - a term extremists use to refer to President Assad's mainly Alawite regime.

He said Isis "is extending its hand so that we refrain from attacking each other and so that we can join forces" against Assad and his allies.

The infighting has raged over a wide swathe of territory in at least four provinces in the north and west - Hama, Idlib, Aleppo and Raqqa.

The apparent move by Isis comes days before peace talks involving the Syrian government, opposition groups and Western diplomats.

More than 100,000 people have been killed and millions displaced internally and beyond Syria's borders as a result of the conflict.

Isis began causing friction with other rebel groups almost as soon as it arrived on the scene around a year ago, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.

As it became more assertive, it impinged increasingly on rival rebel groups, taking over their bases and abducting and sometimes killing fighters and trying to control vital supply routes from Turkey.

Mounting tensions came to a head on 31 December, when Isis handed over the mutilated body of Dr Hussein al-Suleiman, known as Abu Rayyan, a popular and respected commander of the powerful Ahrar al-Sham faction, one of the main components of the Islamic Front.

This set in motion a series of attacks on Isis bases and positions by a variety of combat groups, including the Islamic Front and two other recently-emerged fighting coalitions, the Mujahideen Army and the Syrian Revolutionaries' Front.