The al-Qaeda network denied on Monday any links with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), following weeks of battles between the group and other rebel groups in Syria.
In a message posted online, al-Qaeda’s General Command said “it has no links with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)” and stressed that it is not responsible for “the actions of this group which has been battling opposition groups in Syria this year.” “We were not informed about its creation, nor counselled,” the statement said.
In recent months, ISIL has clashed with other rebel groups in various areas in northern and eastern Syria. The infighting left hundreds dead on both sides, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
This is the second such message by al-Qaeda since ISIL was announced in April 2003.
In June, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said that ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was wrong to announce a merger between the Islamic State of Iraq, formed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Syria’s neighbour, and the al-Nusra Front, an extremist rebel group formed to fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s troops in Syria.
Al-Zawahiri said the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq should remain separate groups.
However, al-Baghdadi ignored al-Zawahiri’s message.
The al-Nusra Front has largely distanced itself from the clashes between ISIL and its rivals in Syria.
It tried to mediate a ceasefire between the two sides, but declared on Monday the failure of its efforts following a suicide bombing a day earlier in the northern Aleppo province that killed 16 fighters, including two senior leaders of rival groups.
“Today, the Islamic State sent a clear message to all armed groups fighting the al-Assad regime and the Syrian people - it is not interested in dialogue or the greater interests of the Muslim nation,” said Muah al-Homsawi, al-Nusra’s field commander based near Aleppo told dpa.
“As of today, all attempts to mediate our differences with the Islamic State have failed and ended.” The suicide bombing took place during talks that rebel sources said were part of a series of mediation sessions between the rival groups aimed at establishing joint, independent shariah courts to resolve future disputes between the Islamist militias.
Meanwhile, several leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are expected to participate in the second round of peace talks between the government and the opposition, scheduled to start February 10.
Three FSA officers accompanied the opposition delegation as “unofficial military advisers” in those first direct talks between Damascus and the opposition, which took place in Switzerland.
FSA officers are currently forming a shortlist of six rebel officials to accompany the coalition to Geneva next week, said the opposition National Coalition, which participated in the first round.
“In the next round, we will have leaders of the Supreme Military Command who are close to the developments on the ground and who have been fighting for the Syrian people’s rights at the negotiation table alongside us,” coalition member Ahmed Ramadan said.
Rebels said their participation come in a bid to push Damascus for a ceasefire, the lifting of sieges of several towns and a wider prisoner swap.
“No one wants to see the end to the fighting more than the fighters themselves,” said a commander based in Amman, who is not authorized to speak to the press and asked not to be identified.
“If there is any chance to end the war through dialogue, then it is our responsibility to try it,” the commander said.
Opposition members have not yet secured the participation of other armed groups, such as the Islamic Front and the Syria Revolutionaries’ Front, which previously have rejected participation in the negotiations.
Direct talks between the opposition and the government ended Friday without any progress. The government has not confirmed its participation in the second round.