Al-Qaida gunmen seize town in Syria

A family leaves their home Thursday in the eastern Syrian town of Deir Ezzor for safety. AHMAD ABOUD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

What this article leaves out is this is yet another Christian town where they executed hundreds of Christians...

By Albert Aji and Bassem Mroue

Associated Press

DAMASCUS, Syria — Al-Qaida militants in north­ern Syria captured a town near the Turkish border Thursday after heavy clashes with Western­ backed rebels, prompting the closure of a nearby frontier crossing, activ­ists and Turkish officials said. It was the latest devel­opment in what has effec­tively become a war with­in a war in northern and eastern parts of Syria — pitting moderate fighters and Kurdish militiamen against extremists with ties to al-Qaida in recent battles that have left hun­dreds dead from both sides. The U.S. and its Euro­pean and Persian Gulf al­lies are increasingly con­cerned about the rising prominence of Islamists, who have played a major role in the civil war against President Bashar Assad’s forces,among the rebels. Elsewhere, a bus struck a roadside bomb in the central province of Homs, killing 19 people, a local official said. The blast in the village of Jbourin also wounded four people, according to the official from the gov­ernor’s office who spoke on condition of anonym­ity. The village is predom­inantly Alawite — an off­shoot of Shiite Islam and a minority sect of which Assad is a member — but it also has Christians and Sunni Muslims. It was not immediately clear why the bus was tar­geted. The civil war, which has left more than 100,000 dead, has taken increasingly sectarian overtones. Most of the re­bels trying to overthrow Assad belong to the ma­jority Sunni sect.

The fighting in the north prompted Turkey to close the border crossing of Bab al-Salameh, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Britain-based Syr­ian Observatory for Hu­man Rights, an activist group that monitors the conflict, said members of the al-Qaida offshoot, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Le­vant, stormed the town of Azaz on Wednesday eve­ning, forcing opposition fighters from the West­ern- backed bloc to pull out. Clashes between both sides broke out when ISIL fighters tried to detain a German doctor they ac­cused of taking photos of their positions on behalf of the rival rebels, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observa­tory. The doctor, a volun­teer in the region, es­caped, but the two rebel factions started fighting.

Amateur video showed dozens of gun­men with heavy machine guns on pickup trucks gathering at the border with Turkey. The Associ­ated Press was able to verify the footage based on interviews and other reporting on the events depicted.

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