JNN 12 Nov 2013 Damascus : After continuous Defeats Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has ordered the disbanding of one of the main militant factions in Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in an audio message aired on Al Jazeera on Friday.
Zawahiri also stated that the al-Nusra Front was an “independent branch” of the global movement in Syria.
“The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is to be abolished, while the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) remains functioning,” he said.
A spokesman for Zawahiri told Al Jazeera that the leader of the ISIL, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, from now on will only be operational in Iraq. This will leave Syria completely to Nusra Front commander Abu Mohammad Golani.
“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a big mistake in forming the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant without consultation,” the statement said.
This provides more evidence that Golani is still alive and active, after having gone silent since rumors that he had been killed circulated in the media last month.
Until this statement, the presence of two al-Qaeda linked rebel groups working independently of one another was interpreted as being a result of disorganization and a lack of communication in the al-Qaeda camp.
Golani had originally been sent by the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to lead the struggle against the government in Syria. Golani was later recalled after al-Baghdadi set up ISIL under his command. Golani refused to dissolve his wing, named the Nusra Front, as he felt himself answerable only to the general head of al-Qaeda, Ayman Zawahiri.
Syrian army retakes 3 towns
Meanwhile, Syrian army forces continue the battle against foreign-backed militants around the capital, retaking three towns near Damascus.
Government forces drove militants out of the towns of al-Sabeineh al-Kubra, al-Sabeineh al-Sughra, and Ghazal on Thursday.
An army commander told the Al-Alam correspondent that “a large number of militants were killed and several field hospitals and operations rooms were discovered” during the military operation in the town of al-Sabeineh.
Military sources say the three towns were among the most important positions for militants on Damascus’ outskirts, and practically all the supply routes of the militants based south of the capital have been cut off now.
The operation took nine days, and a large number of militants were killed.
The latest gains came weeks after the recapture of the nearby Hussainiyeh, Ziabiyeh, and Bweida areas.
Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, backed by a dawn barrage of artillery fire and airstrikes, drove Syrian rebels from a strategic military base near the northern city of Aleppo on Friday, a local photographer said.
According to Reuters, the advance into Base 80, a large military position which rebels have held since February, will help Assad’s forces move towards rebel-held areas of Aleppo city and follows a string of successful offensives this month.
A photographer who supplies pictures to Reuters arrived at the scene about one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the base at dawn and said he saw around two dozen airstrikes and artillery shells hit insurgent positions.
Rebels from Liwa al-Tawid, the largest insurgent force in Aleppo, told him that their unit, as well as dozens of others, had been pushed out of most parts of the base but were regrouping to retake the area, next to Aleppo International Airport, which is still under government control.
Rebels told him 25 of their fighters had been killed.
The Syrian armed forces captured the town of Safira, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south east of Aleppo, a week ago. Safira’s capture would have helped Friday’s attack on Base 80, on the southeastern fringes of the city.
The Syria conflict began in 2011. According to reports, the Western powers and their regional allies — especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — are supporting the militants operating in Syria.
According to the United Nations, more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the fighting.
The UN recently warned about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, saying that over nine million people are in need of urgent aid.