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Clashes between Al-Qaeda-linked group and other factions intensify as humanitarian crisis continues to unfold
January 10, 20141:30PM ET
Rebel-on-rebel fighting between an Al-Qaeda-linked group and other forces has killed nearly 500 people over the past week in northern Syria, an activist group said Friday, in the most serious bout of violence among opponents of President Bashar al-Assad since conflict gripped the country almost three years ago.
The infighting has overshadowed the battle against the government, which in recent months has clawed back some of the territory it had lost to the rebels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday that at least 482 people have been killed in fighting between the factions since Jan. 3. It said 157 were from ISIL, 240 were from more moderate factions and 85 were civilians.
ISIL and another Al-Qaeda-linked group known as Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, initially joined forces with moderate rebels fighting to oust Assad in a conflict that began in March 2011 as a popular uprising but morphed into a civil war.
The collection of ultraconservative rebels and more moderate brigades has made headway against fighters from ISIL in several areas of the provinces of Aleppo, Idlib, Hama and Raqqa — although the group has managed to curb some of its losses.
The Observatory reported renewed clashes Friday in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa. Fighting between rebels and Assad's forces also continued.
Army troops killed dozens of rebels who tried to break the military's siege on opposition-held areas of the central city of Homs, state media and anti-government activists said Friday.
The SANA state news agency said the military killed at least 37 rebels in the Matahen area of Homs. It did not specify when they were killed or provide figures on government casualties.
The Observatory put the death toll at 45, and said the rebels were killed late Wednesday and early Thursday.
Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said the toll could rise because the number of anti-Assad fighters involved in the clashes numbered as many as 65. Abdurrahman said he had no information on government deaths.
For months, Assad's forces have blockaded opposition-held areas of Homs as the military tries to squeeze the last pockets of resistance in the city known as the "capital of the revolution."
'Profound civilian suffering'
Meanwhile, in Damascus, a U.N. official warned that the humanitarian situation in Palestinian-dominated Yarmouk district was deteriorating as aid access to the area remains cut.
Rebels seized Yarmouk more than a year ago, part of a swath of neighborhoods around Damascus now held by opposition fighters. Before the war, Yarmouk was a densely populated district of cheaply built multistory homes that served as a refugee camp for Palestinians who fled there as refugees during the 1948 Mideast war surrounding Israel's creation.
Christopher Gunness, an official with the U.N.'s Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees, cited reports of widespread malnutrition and the absence of medical care, including for pregnant women.
"The profound civilian suffering in Yarmouk deepens," Gunness said. "Residents, including infants and children, have been subsisting for long periods on diets of such things as stale vegetables, animal feed and cooking spices dissolved in water. Infants are suffering from diseases linked to severe malnutrition, including anemia, rickets, and kwashiorkor."
Rickets is an ailment that weakens bones because of a lack of vitamin D, calcium or phosphate, according to the National Institutes of Health. Kwashiorkor is a type of malnutrition that results from a lack of protein in one’s diet.
Gunness said electricity and heating are cut for long periods, and the water supply is inconsistent at best.
"The imperative remains that the Syrian authorities and other parties must allow and facilitate safe and open humanitarian access into Yarmouk to enable us to assist civilians trapped there," he said.