Last updated: 5 May, 2014

Jihadist rivals clash in east Syria, 63 dead, activists say

Fighting between rival jihadist groups in eastern Syria killed 74 people on Monday, despite a call from Al-Qaeda’s chief for a ceasefire, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The clashes between Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have prompted 60,000 people to flee towns in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor province.

The Observatory said 69 fighters on both sides had been killed in the clashes on Monday, along with five civilians.

Al-Nusra seized the village of Al-Sabha, in the west of Deir Ezzor, which borders Iraq, with 11 of its fighters and 23 ISIL members killed there.

In other villages in the province, 35 Al-Nusra and allied militants died in fighting Monday.

The deaths bring to more than 150 the toll since the latest confrontation between the groups erupted last week in Deir Ezzor.

It comes after Islamist and moderate rebels launched an offensive against ISIL earlier this year. They were later joined by Al-Nusra.

While Al-Nusra has been accepted as an ally by many rebels, ISIL has been criticised for its attacks on civilians and rival opposition groups.

The fighting with ISIL has killed around 4,000 people, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

The two jihadist groups have continued to clash despite a call from Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri for an end to the hostilities.

In an audio recording released Friday, Zawahiri urged Al-Nusra to stop fighting ISIL and focus on battling the Syrian regime.

He also repeated a call for ISIL to restrict its activities to Iraq, a plea that the group has rejected on several occasions.

In a response to Zawahiri’s call, Al-Nusra said it would stop fighting ISIL if the group ended its attacks.

“We will follow the orders of… Ayman al-Zawahiri… to stop any attack from our side against ISIL, while continuing to respond whenever they attack Muslims and all that is sacred to them,” Al-Nusra said in a statement.

“As soon as ISIL announces the end of its attacks on Muslims, we will spontaneously stop firing,” said the jihadist group, adding it had only fought ISIL in areas “where it was on the attack”.