Jihadists advance in Syria turbulent north
BEIRUT - The jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has taken most of the town of Al-Bab in Syria's Aleppo province after fighting with rebels, an NGO said Monday.
The advance by the group in the country's turbulent north comes after 10 days of fighting pitting moderate and Islamist opposition forces against the Al-Qaeda inspired organisation that has killed nearly 700 people.
"ISIL has seized almost complete control of the town of Al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo city," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.
"The sound of shooting can still be heard in Al-Bab, but it's not clear if that is from continuing clashes or mopping up operations," he added.
The town has been out of regime control for more than a year, but came under fierce aerial bombardment by government troops over the weekend.
The two-day wave of air strikes killed 50 people, according to the Observatory.
Elsewhere in the province, the Observatory said the rebel groups battling ISIL were progressing in the town of Jarabulus, near the Turkish border.
"Overnight, fighting continued in Jarabulus between ISIL and the Islamic Front and other rebel groups, with the latter progressing," the Observatory said in an email.
The fighting in Jarabulus resumed after a deadline given by rebels for ISIL fighters to withdraw from the city passed without them leaving, the Observatory said.
Fighting between ISIL and opposition forces also erupted again in the northwestern province of Idlib, where the rebels were progressing, and in Raqa, a northern ISIL stronghold where the jihadist group has largely held off rebels.
Jihadist foreign fighters were widely welcomed by Syrian rebels when they first entered the conflict, but have experienced a backlash against their reported abuses of civilians and rival rebels.
On Sunday, ISIL in Raqa issued a statement accusing opposition forces of fighting against it to please the West and other "apostate" nations before a scheduled peace conference in Switzerland this month.
Syria's regime and opposition are scheduled to hold talks in the town of Montreux beginning on January 22.