Friday 4 October 2013
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: Final death toll for 04/10/2013; Approximately 160 were killed in Syria yesterday. The dead include: 31 civilians, 38 rebel fighters, 34 regular soldiers, 4 YPG fighters, 12 unidentified rebel fighters, 1 member of the Kurdish Asayesh, 18 NDF combatants, 7 non-Syrian fighters and 19 fighters from the ISIS, al-Nusra and rebel battalions.
– In Aleppo 2 civilians and 10 rebel fighters were killed. A man was shot by sniper in the al-Sheikh Khudur neighbourhood. A man from al-Bab city was tortured to death in regime prisons. 8 rebel fighters were killed by clashes with regular forces in the al-Hmeira mountain in the southern Reef. 1 rebel fighter was killed by clashes in the al-Rashidein neighbourhood with regular forces. 1 rebel fighter from the Jabrin village of Reef A’zaz was killed by clashes with regular forces in the Bustan al-Basha neighbourhood of Aleppo city.
– In Deir Izzor 6 civilians and 1 rebel fighter were killed. 2 men were tortured to death in regime prisons in Damascus. 3 men and 1 child were killed by an air raid on areas in the al-Mayadin city. 1 rebel fighter was killed by clashes with regular forces in the al-Mwathfin neighbourhood of Deir Izzor city.
– In Idlib 1 child and 2 rebel fighters were killed. 1 child from Binnesh city was killed by an air raid on areas of the city. 1 rebel fighter was killed by clashes with regular forces in the perimeter of the Wadi al-Deif encampment. 1 rebel fighter from the Khan al-Subul area was killed when a grenade exploded while he was manufacturing it.
– In Reef Dimashq 4 civilians and 11 rebel fighters were killed. A man and his wife were killed by regime bombardment on the Yabroud city. A man from al-Zabadani died of wounds received earlier by regime bombardment on parts of the city. A child from the al-A’bada town was killed by a shell that fell near the fields of al-Blaliya town. 7 rebel fighters ( 5 from Beit Jen and 2 from Kanaker -1 of which is a rebel commander-) were killed by clashes with regular forces in Reef al-Qneitra. 2 rebel fighters were killed by regime bombardment on areas in A’rbin city. 1 rebel fighter was killed by clashes in the Shab’a town. 1 Palestinian fighter was killed by clashes with regular forces.
– In Damascus 1 man from the Barza neighbourhood was shot dead, activists accused regular forces of shooting him.
– In Dera’a 11 civilians and 5 rebel fighters were killed. 2 men were killed by regime bombardment on areas of Tariq al-Sad neighbourhood. 1 woman from al-Sheikh Muskin, 2 men and 1 child from Da’el were killed by regime bombardment on areas of Da’el. 4 civilians (2 men, a media activist and a Palestinian child) from al-Na’ima town were killed by regime bombardment on parts of the town. A man was shot by unknown gunmen in the Seida town. 5 rebel fighters from the towns of Tafes and al-Hrak were killed by clashes in the perimeter of the Tafes town and the perimeter of the 52nd division.
– In Homs 2 rebel fighters were killed. 1 from the al-Sam’alil village of Sahel al-Hola was killed by clashes with regular forces in the outskirts of the village. 1 from the Deir B’alba neighbourhood was killed by shrapnel from shells launched on the neighbourhood.
– In Hama 5 civilians were killed. 2 ( a man and his child) from the al-Jabin village were killed by regime bombardment on the village. A woman and her 2 children from the al-Salamiya city were found dead in the Homs military hospital, after they went missing on the al-Qadmous-Salamiya road.
– In al-Qneitra 2 rebel fighters were killed by clashes with regular forces in the perimeter of a regime checkpoint in between the Awfaniya and Khan Arnaba villages.
– A man, thought to be a pro regime militant, from al-Mazza neighbourhood was killed inside his house by what are thought to be rebel fighters.
– 6 rebel fighters and 2 civilians were documented as killed earlier.
– 4 rebel fighters were killed by clashes between 2 rebel battalions in the outskirts of the Bsaqla village near the Kafranbel town of Reef Idlib which lasted for 4 hours.
– At least 19 fighters from the ISIS, al-Nusra and rebel battalions were killed. 14 were killed by clashes and the destruction of 2 vehicles loaded with heavy machine guns by YPG fighters in Reef al-Hasaka. 5 were killed by clashes with YPG fighters in Reef Aleppo.
– 4 YPG fighters were killed by clashes with the ISIS, al-Nusra and rebel fighters.
– A member of the Kurdish Asayesh (the Kurdish internal security forces) was killed by an explosion in the Jal Agha (al-Jawadiya) suburb of Reef al-Hasaka.
– 1 rebel fighter was killed by clashes with the ISIS in the A’zaz area of Reef Aleppo.
– 12 unidentified rebel fighters were killed by clashes in several areas.
– 7 non-Syrian fighters were killed by clashes with regular forces in several areas.
– 18 NDF combatants were killed by clashes, sniper fire and attacks on their checkpoints in several areas.
– At least 34 regular soldiers were killed by clashes, bombardment and IED and rocket attacks in several provinces: 12 in Aleppo, 9 Damascus and Reef Dimashq, 2 Idlib, 4 Dera’a, 4 al-Qneitra and 3 in Homs.
al-Hasaka province: 14 fighters from the ISIS, al-Nusra and some rebel factions were confirmed as killed by clashes with the YPG in the perimeter of Safa village in southern Reef Jal Agha (al-Jawadiya) suburb. YPG fighters also destroyed 2 ISIS vehicles loaded with heavy machine guns. 4 YPG fighters were killed by the clashes.
Aleppo province: ISIS and rebel fighters attacked a YPG checkpoint this morning near the village of Qastal Jindo, by Efrin city, which caused clashes to erupt between both sides. The YPG responded to the attack by shelling an ISIS base in the village of Ma’rin, reef A’zaz city, with tanks. Reports of ISIS dead and injured, also reports that one of their tanks and a heavy machine-gun were destroyed. 1 rebel fighter from Liwa’ Asifat al-Shamal was killed by clashes with the ISIS by A’zaz city.
Reef Dimashq: Rebels in Yabrud city executed 2 men yesterday, they were killed by a point blank shot to the head. The rebels then moved the bodies to the public market of the city and left them with a note claiming the reasons for the execution. The note claimed that: the victims were executed for 1- assisting the regime forces during their first storming of the city in July this year, 2- for prostituting their wives.
Last night heavy fighting erupted between YPG and ISIL in an area located between Cindîres (Jindires) and the village of Atmê.
During todays Friday prayer in the Cindîres mosque the Imam condemned ISIL attacks on the city and the region.”These groups which purport to adhere to the teaching of Islam are using Islam to gain selfish and horrible means. All good muslims know that the fatwas proclaimed by these groups are against the will of God and his prophet Muhammed. When Islam was spread across the world it was laid on a pillar of compassion for humanity. This fundament is now fought by these groups. As a result of their actions many people have suffered and many have been forced to flee their homes”.
A team of British border police on Friday began talks with Syrian refugees, some on hunger strike, who are blocking a gangway at a ferry terminal in Calais in a desperate bid to win asylum in Britain.
Two representatives for the refugees, 60 of whom have blockaded the terminal since Wednesday, began negotiations with three members of Britain’s Border Force, an AFP journalist said.
They were joined by four officials from the Medecins du Monde and Secours Catholique charities as well as the top government official for the Pas-de-Calais region.
The mayor of Calais, a Channel port from where many ships and ferries leave for Britain, said the protest highlighted the need for a concerted European strategy.
“It’s for the government to take up its responsibilities,” said Natacha Bouchart.
“There also has to be an awareness on a European level and the British must take a decision,” she said.
“It’s unacceptable that it is in France and at Calais that one has to control immigration.”
The protest, which has seen 20 people go on hunger strike, prompted French authorities to offer to legalize the refugees’ status.
Some 50 police from the CRS anti-riot squad moved in early Friday to try and clear the protestors from the footbridge but backed off when two of them climbed on top of a port building and threatened to jump off.
Pas-de-Calais prefect Denis Robin then went to the site and offered the Syrians, currently illegal immigrants, the right to asylum.
“Today, the Syrians present here are caught in a stalemate. What we can do is to offer them a status on French territory… in other words to make a request for asylum,” he told reporters.
He said every asylum demand had a “95 percent chance of success.”
“We cannot take any decision on their access to Britain,” Robin said. “I am not persuading them to settle in France but trying to legalise their status.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has pledged to fast-track the applications of Syrians seeking asylum.
But the protesting refugees, most of whom arrived in Calais a month ago, have voiced disappointment at the way they were treated in France.
“We thought that France was the country where human rights are respected,” said Tarik, a 19-year-old.
The refugees had affixed cardboard signs reading “Take us to the UK”, and “We want to talk to David Cameron.”
“But we live outside like dogs, hunted down by the police, we see we are not welcome, how can we seek asylum here?” Tarik said.
Ali, a 38-year-old, said although French President Francois Hollande had taken a strong stand against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons, the French were not welcoming at all.
“Why does the president say one thing and the police another?” Ali said, adding that he had spent $13,000 to come to a country where the “president said ‘we must help Syrians'”.
“Here even animals are better treated than us,” he said.
The UN refugee agency has said 17 countries, including France, have agreed to receive quotas of refugees fleeing the bloody conflict in Syria.
France has had only 850 registered demands for asylum from Syrians since the start of this year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said late last month.
US Embassy: Here is the map of US humanitarian assistance to Syria in the red dots – note the lack of red dots along the northern border where the Kurds.
ANF: In an interview with Halk Tv broadcast today, Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad said Turkey is funneling Islamist and other fighters from more than 80 countries into Syria and will ultimately pay a heavy price for its association with “terrorists”.
A strong-worded Assad went on to say that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government “are responsible for the blood of tens of thousands of Syrians” and added: “These terrorists enter Syria from neighboring countries, primarily Turkey.”
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, Syria’s two-and-a-half year uprising has left more than 115,000 people dead.
President Assad also said he’s fighting Islamist fanatics. Tens of thousands of “terrorists” are fighting in Syria ha said adding that “The main problem is new terrorists infiltrate through borders, as much as we kill them”.
• Turkey’s parliament has extended by a year a mandate that allows the military to send troops into Syria if the need arises, AP reports. The government proposed the extension, saying the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons poses an “imminent and serious” threat to Turkey.
• Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama may discuss the Syria crisis on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit next week in Bali, according to a Kremlin aide. “It would be rather logical to meet (Obama) in Bali, taking into account the work on the Syrian issue,” Putin’s top foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters, according to Reuters.
• The battle for Damascus is deadlocked despite the formation of a the National Defence League – a pro-government home guard that has sprung up in every neighbourhood, writes Jonathan Steele from the Syrian capital.
Ten-year-olds on bicycles circled the dusty courtyard between the houses. Elderly neighbours in cheap chairs chatted outside their front doors.
But as we walked round the corner, silence fell. The road was empty. Jasmine blooms dropped on to deserted pavements. No children played on the rusty metal swings in an abandoned park.
In single file we followed the men in uniform to al-Zubair mosque, its window panes shattered, the minaret dimpled by shrapnel and bullets. Another group of men emerged in combat fatigues, urging us to stand away from the windows. Opposition snipers watched and fired from the buildings at the far end of the street, they warned.
This is the frontline in Tadamon, a district of closely packed blocks of flats on the south-eastern edge of Damascus. To the immediate south is the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk and beyond that the sprawling district of rebel-held Ghouta, which came under gas attack in August.
All round Damascus there are similar battlelines, separating the city centre from poorer districts that were once farming and smallholder communities but are now dotted with shoddy breeze-block buildings that have mushroomed without permits being sought. Sometimes, as in Tadamon, the front goes through a poor area, splitting a community equally underprivileged on both sides of the line.
With his strong mane of wavy white hair, 70-year-old Abu Emad does not look his age. Wearing a lapel badge bearing President Bashar al-Assad‘s face, he commands a small unit of volunteers from a guard post near the mosque. They are part of the National Defence Force (NDF), a grandly named organisation of local people that was formed last year in almost every Syrian neighbourhood as a kind of home guard.
Abu Emad used to be a salesman. “I joined up because my eldest son was killed by a remote-controlled bomb attached to his car in February. We are defending our homeland,” he said.
The frontline in Tadamon wobbled last November when the rebels managed to capture al-Zubair mosque and a few streets around it. Abu Emad pointed out where the rebels had fortified the building’s north-facing windows with sandbags. But after a week the NDF men counter-attacked with army help and regained the lost ground. The frontline has been static ever since.
In the NDF headquarters on the second floor of a house on Tadamon’s main street Abu Elie, the area commander, was working in an office with five pictures of Assad on the walls. He explained how the NDF consisted mainly of men with military experience, either as conscripts or from former army careers. The aim was to supplant the informal militias, known as the “shabiha“, who were often accused of massacres, with a more disciplined and better armed force. Each man receives the Syrian equivalent of £60 a month.
In the hour that we talked we heard the boom of three outgoing tank rounds nearby. Asked if the army was firing, Abu Elie said the NDF also had tanks and mortars. “We do our own operations and we also work with the Syrian army. We are a parallel army. The tide of battle turned with the activation of the NDF. By protecting our neighbourhoods we took the burden off the army and let them do more extensive operations in more dangerous areas,” he said.
The NDF has given the Syrian government new manpower but the steady increase in the number of Syrian rebels as well as foreign jihadist fighters has resulted in a stalemate on the Damascus battlefield. Neither side has made significant gains for at least a year. A major government offensive on Ghouta in August, which coincided with the sarin gas attacks, has not won it any ground.
Abu Elie conceded that Tadamon was part of a wider Damascus deadlock. “We have the ability to advance, but we don’t have complete intelligence about the other side. There’s no need to lose more men and have more martyrs. Anyway, if we advance we can’t hold the areas, so we just do hit-and-run attacks. It’s a war of attrition.”
The break would only come, he believed, when the rebels stopped getting supplies of weapons from abroad.
The rebels appear to have more firepower than in February. Mortars regularly rain down on government-held areas. They may not have as much destructive force as the Syrian army’s artillery, but they are as indiscriminate in their choice of victims.
In the last two weeks of August 123 mortars landed in the Christian quarter of the Old City, an area with no military targets, Gregorios III, the Greek Catholic patriarch, said. The tessellated marble fountain in the courtyard in front of his church now has a hole the size of a large soup-plate. A mortar had crashed in the previous evening. Splinters of marble and metal shattered two cars parked nearby. One Tuesday last month another mortar landed outside the Old City walls, killing 15 people.
Many Damascenes who oppose the regime, including most of the activists who organised the street protests of 2011, have left for Beirut. Arrests continue, and those activists who remain in Syria avoid being seen with foreign journalists. As a result, the overwhelming mood in the capital is support for the government, either with genuine enthusiasm or out of fear of chaos if it falls.
There is widespread anxiety that Islamists now dominate the armed opposition. Their attack on the Christian village of Maaloula just north of Damascus a fortnight ago confirmed people’s fears that the jihadists are no longer fighting only in Syria’s north and east but are close to the capital.
The threat of US missile strikes led many government officials to send their families abroad. Senior figures in the regime requisitioned empty homes and moved their offices there. Their concern was not just about being hit but that the rebels would exploit the pandemonium to break the frontlines and occupy the city centre. Now that the threat is off the table, better-off families are returning to Damascus. At the border with Lebanon over recent days, there have been more people entering than leaving Syria.
By some estimates, given that large tracts of the north and east are in opposition hands, the government controls only a third of Syria. But as long as it is in charge of Damascus and the coastal strip there is no chance of collapse, mass defections or implosion.
The tide may be turning in its favour. The recapture of the town of Qusair in June was a big psychological boost for the government, as was British MPs’ decision to block any UK role in Obama’s air strikes. “I want to thank England’s parliament and people for saving the situation. They understood it was all about destroying Syria,” said Nizar Moussa, the governor of Tartous.
Safwan Koudsi, the leader of an old Nasserist and pan-Arab nationalist party allied with the government, said: “I believe the UK vote was very effective. Fewer and fewer countries are supporting this war. Now is the time for negotiations.”
In government circles as well as among the regime’s democratic opponents, talk centres on the much-delayed Geneva conference to end the war and find a political solution. Rajaa Nasser, general secretary of the National Co-ordination Body for Democratic Change, said his group did not take the armed opposition’s refusal to attend Geneva seriously now that the US and Russia had agreed to reconvene the conference.
“The Syrian National Coalition [the western-backed opposition] is not independent. If the United States really wants Geneva, they will come. Qatar [one of the SNC’s main supporters] will also have to agree,” he said. He also expects pressure will be needed from Russia to get the regime to come to Geneva with serious proposals.
Diplomats working with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, have been told that the government plans to call for a ceasefire when the Geneva talks take place. Qadri Jamil, the Syrian deputy prime minister, confirmed this to the Guardian. Although he later claimed he was not speaking for the government, his retraction can be interpreted as a sign of the issue’s sensitivity while Assad’s team prepares its agenda for Geneva.
At one level, a ceasefire is unrealistic since the jihadists will never accept one and could attack rebels from the western-backed Free Syrian Army if they do. But to propose a ceasefire makes sense for Assad, since it further divides the rebel camp, as well as looking sensible to Syrians and statesmanlike on the international stage.
Louai Hussein, who runs an opposition thinktank, Building the Syrian State, believes US pressure over chemical weapons was designed with an eye on Geneva in order to give Obama a military option that could stay on the table and be used as leverage.
It was, in his view, the second stage of a policy shift which began in May when the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, agreed to reconvene Geneva. “There are too many warlords and the US started to feel the conflict was getting out of control, and this was not in Israel’s interest. They wanted stability. The Russians also want to restore control, so the two governments have to work together,” he said.
Assad’s victory in Qusair jolted the Americans, he argued. “After Qusair there was some kind of agreement between the US and Russia for the regime not to advance into other areas. The US, France and the Gulf Arab states talk of having a balance before Geneva.” The US threat of air strikes was designed to create that balance.
The Geneva conference could promote a dialogue among Syrians that would produce a transitional government of national unity with ministers from the moderate opposition and the regime as well as independents. It would have to be accepted that Assad stayed on as president at least until his term ends in April, and perhaps beyond it.
Some analysts claim Assad is winning the military war. That is wrong. The battlefield is deadlocked and will remain so as long as the rebels continue getting arms. But thanks to Lavrov and Putin and the growing international fear of the jihadists, Assad is winning the political war.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told Turkey it will pay a heavy price for backing rebels fighting to oust him, accusing it of harboring “terrorists” along its border who, he said, would soon turn on their hosts.
In an interview with Turkey’s Halk TV due to be broadcast later on Friday, Assad called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan “bigoted” and said Ankara was allowing terrorists to cross into Syria to attack the army and Syrian civilians.
“It is not possible to put terrorism in your pocket and use it as a card because it is like a scorpion which won’t hesitate to sting you at the first opportunity,” Assad said, according to a transcript from Halk TV, which is close to Turkey’s opposition.
“In the near future, these terrorists will have an impact on Turkey and Turkey will pay a heavy price for it.”
Turkey, which shares a 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria and has NATO’s second-largest deployable armed forces, is one of Assad’s fiercest critics and a staunch supporter of the opposition, although it denies arming the rebels.
It shelters about a quarter of the 2 million people who have fled Syria and has often seen the conflict spill across its frontier, responding in kind when mortars and shells fired from Syria have hit its soil.
It has allowed rebel fighters to cross in and out of Syria but has grown alarmed, along with Western allies opposed to Assad, by divisions among their ranks and the deepening influence of radical Islamists in Syria.
Last month, the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seized Azaz, about 5 km (3 miles) from the border with Turkey, and has repeatedly clashed with the local rebel Northern Storm brigade since then.
“Right now, Syria is headed for a sectarian war,” Erdogan said in an interview on Turkish television late on Thursday.
“This is the danger we are facing.”
Turkey has bolstered its defenses and sent additional troops to the border with Syria in recent weeks. Its parliament voted on Thursday to extend by a year a mandate authorizing a military deployment to Syria if needed.
Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, pointed to the seizure of Azaz as evidence Islamists are gaining the upper hand and said states that want his overthrow had helped make that happen.
“The balance of power among the opposition fighting forces is stacking up decisively in favor of the Islamists,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.
“We are by no means gloating about this – clearly a dangerous new act in the bloody tragedy is unfolding.
“We warned of such a turn of events at the very beginning of the Syrian epic, when our opponents, hoping for the regime’s swift fall … were ready to support any forces calling for the government’s overthrow.”
UNDECIDED ON ELECTIONS
Assad accused Erdogan, whose AK Party has its roots in conservative Islamist politics, of having a sectarian agenda.
“Before the crisis, Erdogan had never mentioned reforms or democracy, he was never interested in these issues … Erdogan only wanted the Muslim Brotherhood to return to Syria, that was his main and core aim,” he said.
Erdogan’s government strongly denies any such agenda.
His aides point to his cultivation of good relations with Assad for years before the conflict and say Turkey does not see Syria’s Sunni Muslims and its Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ism to which Assad belongs, as fixed blocs.
Assad said he had not yet decided whether to run in presidential elections next year because the situation on the ground was changing rapidly, adding that he would only put himself forward if Syrians wanted him to. The picture will become clearer in the next 4-5 months, Assad said.
The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011 and has been notified of at least 14 chemical attacks.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution last week that demands the eradication of Syria’s chemical weapons and endorses a plan for a political transition in Syria agreed on at an international conference in Geneva last year.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the vote that major powers hoped to hold a second peace conference on Syria in mid-November in Geneva.
In his interview, Assad again denied his forces had used chemical weapons and blamed such attacks on the rebels. Asked whether he expected the Geneva process to accelerate if Syria handed over its chemical weapons, Assad said he saw no link.
“Practically these issues are not related. Geneva II is about Syria’s own domestic political process and cutting neighboring countries’ weapons and financial support to terrorists,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Andrew Roche)
Syria rebels try to end infighting near Turkish border: BEIRUT – Six powerful Syrian rebel groups on Thursday demanded al Qaeda-linked militants and rival insurgents end clashes that have escalated infighting in a strategic northern border area.
The al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized Azaz, about 5 km (3 miles) from the frontier with Turkey, last month and has repeatedly clashed with the local Northern Storm brigade since then.
A previous attempt by rebel groups to broker a truce between the two sides failed.
The fighting prompted Turkey to close its border crossing, a lifeline for Syria’s rebel-held northern areas because it let refugees out and supplies like food and building materials in.
A statement by activists on Thursday called for an immediate ceasefire between the two sides and called on them to submit their dispute to an Islamic court in Aleppo, about 30 km (20 miles) to the south.
“We ask our brothers in the faction of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to withdraw their forces and equipment to their essential bases immediately,” the statement said.
“We consider them above spilling the blood of Muslims or rushing to describe them as infidels and apostates.”
The statement was signed by commanders from the powerful Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawheed, Suqour al-Sham and Army of Islam brigades, and a copy was posted to Northern Storm’sFacebook page. It did not say what the groups would do if the two sides did not stop fighting or if ISIL did not withdraw.
“This was a declaration signed by the biggest rebel brigades in Syria. The message is clear,” an official in Ahrar al-Sham, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.
Rebel divisions have hurt their fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s better equipped and organized forces in the 2-1/2-year-old conflict. Tensions have been rooted partially in conflicting ideologies, but more often in disputes over resources, territory and spoils of war.
Also on Thursday, activists in the rebel-held city of Raqqa to the east accused ISIL fighters of smashing a statue of an early Islamic leader because they considered it idolatrous, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
ISIL released an audio recording this week accusing Northern Storm of provoking the fighting in Azaz.
Separately, a video posted online showed rebel commanders in Rastan, a town in the outskirts of the central city of Homs, rejecting the presence of ISIL and the Nusra Front, another al Qaeda-affiliated faction, in the area.
Again, it was not clear what action they would take if the Islamists did not leave the area.
Rebel infighting has worked to Assad’s advantage. Just over a month ago, the government faced the possibility of military action by the United States, but the threat was averted by a deal to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons.
A team of experts charged with starting that process arrived in Damascus on Tuesday for the U.N. Security Council-endorsed mission and is expected to begin inspections next week.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin and Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Editing by Angus MacSwan)
People giving money to help millions of refugees from the civil war in Syria are inadvertently supporting terrorism, the charity watchdog has warned.
Some of their cash was “undoubtedly” going to extremist groups, said William Shawcross, the chairman of the Charity Commission.
Conditions on the ground in the midst of conflict made it difficult or impossible for charities to know where aid ended up, he said.
The Disasters Emergency Committee, which represents 14 of Britain’s biggest charities, has raised £20?million since the launch of its Syria Crisis Appeal in March. Its members include the British Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children.
But it said it was unable to guarantee that no cash was falling into the hands of terrorists.
The Charity Commission is so concerned that it has issued guidance to fund-raising bodies.
“A lot of money is raised that goes to Syria, some of it undoubtedly goes to extremist groups … It is very hard for all organisations to determine that,” Mr Shawcross said.
The commission said it was up to charity trustees to ensure that donors’ generosity, intended to benefit those in need, was not diverted to terrorists.
“There is a risk that funds raised in the name of ‘charity’ generally or under the name of a specific charity are misused to support terrorist activities, with or without the charity’s knowledge,” the commission said.
It warned that “individuals supporting terrorist activity might also claim to work for a charity and trade on its name and legitimacy to gain access to a region or community”.
Peter Clarke, a former head of anti-terrorism at the Metropolitan Police who sits on the board of the commission, said that donations could fall into the wrong hands once the money arrived in Syria or surrounding countries.
“Once you get into these very difficult, dangerous areas it is hugely difficult for charities to track the final destination of their funds,” he told The Telegraph.
“It is one of these ‘fog of war’ issues where stuff can be diverted.”
He said it was also possible for terrorists to set up fake charities in donor countries to attract funds.
“It is perfectly feasible for charities to be established as a sort of cover. We have not seen clear evidence of that yet,” Mr Clarke said.
“You can think of a host of different ways in which people giving money with the best possible intentions could find that it has been misappropriated.”
He added: “We know there is some abuse of charities by extremist terrorist organisations but the likelihood is the full extent of this will never be known.
“What we have got to do is try to stop as much of it as we possibly can.”
Three Conservative MPs, who sit on a Commons committee that monitors the work of charities, said they were concerned.
“Such is the seriousness of these claims by the Charity Commission that intelligence officials must urgently review this area and the tactics that terrorist organisations are using to finance their activities,” said Priti Patel.
Robert Halfon said: “It is shocking to find that some charitable aid is being diverted to terrorists in Syria.
“No charity should give out money, unless it can be really sure that money really goes to help those most in need, rather than arming extremists.”
Charlie Elphicke added: “There still needs to be greater scrutiny at home by the Charity Commission on charities who have links to radical, extremist and even terrorist groups.”
A spokesman for the Charities Commission said: “Charities providing humanitarian aid are themselves aware of the risk that their funds may be diverted and that their staff and local partners will be working in areas where militant groups and in some cases those who support terrorist activities operate. Their work is not easy.”
A spokesman for the Disasters Emergency Committee said: “It is never possible to entirely eliminate such risks if you wish to help those in greatest need but DEC members take all reasonable steps to avoid, uncover and minimise such losses.
“The DEC and its member agencies do not fund or provide support to political organisations or armed groups.
“In places like Syria member agencies will have specific policies and procedures in place, based on decades of operational experience and in compliance with UK legal requirements, to ensure they prevent resources reaching these groups.
“Member agencies’ reporting to the DEC includes information about any losses or fraud involving DEC funds and we have not received such information regarding any DEC Syria Crisis Appeal funds.”
The committee said that £9.6?million had been spent by the charities so far and that £10.4?million was “given directly to our member agencies”.
In the first three months after the launch of the appeal 129,000 people received aid funded by the DEC and eight out of 10 of those were inside Syria.