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Thursday October 3, 2013 MYT 8:45:02 PM
Thursday October 3, 2013 MYT 8:46:19 PM
A Turkish military vehicle patrols along the Bab Al-Salam border crossing to Turkey September 9, 2013. REUTERS/Molhem Barakat
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Several powerful Syrian rebel groups on Thursday demanded al Qaeda-linked militants and a rival rebel faction stop fighting and called on the hardline Islamists to withdraw their forces within 48 hours, a statement said.
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 did not hold.
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 posted online by four rebel brigades 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," said the statement.
"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's Facebook page. It did not say what the groups would do if the two sides did not stop fighting or if ISIL did not withdraw.
Rebel divisions have hurt their fight against President Bashar al-Assad's better equipped and organised 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.
Separately, a video posted online showed rebel commanders in Rastan, a town in the outskirts of the central city of Homs, criticising ISIL and the Nusra Front, another al Qaeda-affiliated faction.
ISIL released an audio recording this week accusing Northern Storm of provoking the fighting in Azaz and saying the media was distorting its image by unfairly blaming it for the clashes.
(Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
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