Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Several Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions demanded that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) withdraw from the streets of the strategic town of Azaz along the Turkish borders following fierce clashes between the group and the North Storm Brigade in the city, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned.
A number of opposition groups, including Ahrar Al-Sham and Liwa Al-Tawhid, urged the “brothers in ISIS to withdraw their forces and [military] vehicles from the streets and return to their main compounds in the city of Aza.,” They called on the Al-Qaeda-linked group and the North Storm Brigade to “bring their differences before the Islamic court that will be convened in the Islamic council’s headquarters in Aleppo in 48 hours.”
The statement emphasized the necessity of an “immediate ceasefire between the two Muslim sides.”
The statement came two days after ISIS fighters advanced towards the Bab Al-Salama border crossing near Turkey amid fierce clashes with the North Storm brigade.
An FSA official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said: “The fighters of ISIS and elements of the North Storm Brigade are separated by one kilometer,” adding that Liwa Al-Tawhid had initially deployed its fighters between the two sides before withdrawing.
“Taking their differences before the Islamic council may ease the tensions, but it will not solve the problem,” the FSA official said, adding, “The only solution is for the two sides to withdraw, with Liwa Al-Tawhid taking over all of the compounds in the town of Azaz and the surrounding area.”
Meanwhile, opposition sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the “members of the military council voted against the presence of ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front in Homs, giving them a 48-hour deadline to completely leave the suburbs of Homs.”
FSA spokesman Luay Al-Miqdad told Asharq Al-Awsat: “In the event that ISIS does not meet the deadline given by the military council in Rastan, all options are on the table, including confrontations.” He called on ISIS to “redirect their rifles against the regime because they have become a burden on the FSA.”
Miqdad denied reports of the possible removal of FSA Chief of Staff Salim Idris during the Supreme Military Council of the FSA in Istanbul, making clear that “this meeting is held on a regular basis to discuss the situation on the ground.”
In separate news, elements affiliated with ISIS were said to have smashed a statue of the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid in the city of Al-Raqqa in northern Syria, saying it was “idolatrous.” Hard-line Islamists view the honoring of any religious figure or personage as being religiously proscribed.
The group reportedly threatened to smash all statues in the city.
Troops loyal to the Assad regime have retained control of the strategic town of Khanasser, which lies on a supply route between Hama and Aleppo, following weeks-long clashes with the opposition.