BEIRUT – A Turkish-backed rebel faction engaged in a violent clash with a fellow opposition group in Aleppo after one of its arms caches was robbed in Syria’s second city, in yet another instance of internecine fighting between the country’s opposition.
The Free Syrian Army-affiliated Sultan Murad Division—which is composed of ethnic Turkmen fighters—announced Tuesday that “at 2:30 a.m. [the day prior] an armed gang robbed one of our headquarters in Aleppo, stealing weapons and ammunition before fleeing.”
“A committee was formed to investigate the incident and identify the assailants in order to punish them,” the group said in the statement issued on its official Twitter account.
The Sultan Murad Division also issued a stern threat, warning that “if there is a party or faction behind this attack, our response will be tough and we are ready to fight them.”
However, the statement, which was posted shortly before 4:30 p.m. local time, made no mention of any clashes, despite reports to the contrary.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said early Tuesday evening that clashes had raged between the Sultan Murad Division and an unnamed “Islamist battalion” during a 24-hour period prior to the publication of its report on the incident.
“Two people were killed during the clashes between both sides” in Aleppo’s southeastern Al-Myassar quarter, the monitoring NGO added.
Although neither the SOHR nor the Sultan Murad Division named the other belligerent party in the clashes, reports emerged that it was Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, a powerful rebel group that once received US-weapons from the Turkey-based Military Operation Center.
Both factions are allied and fight alongside each other in the Jaysh Halab coalition formed in mid-February 2016 following regime gains in Aleppo.
Nour al-Din al-Zenki’s official spokesperson quickly took to social media to downplay the severity of the incident, insisting it was merely a personal dispute gone awry.
“There was a disagreement between individuals that has been forwarded to the competent authority… please do not spread destructive rumors,” Captain Abdul-Salam Ahmad Abdul-Razzaq wrote on his Facebook account.
Nevertheless, the spokesperson admitted that violence had erupted between both groups in a statement to the pro-rebel Al-Etihad Press outlet, in which he said that the fight broke out because of a personal problem between a local civilian and a member of the Anfad Hamza Brigade—which joined the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement on December 5, 2015.
He explained that after suffering a series of harassments at the hand of a rebel fighter, the civilian called upon his acquaintances in the Sultan Murad Division to back him up, sparking a wider fight between the opposition factions.
“The [dispute] worsened in the afternoon after the Sultan Murad Division cordoned off the headquarters of the Anfad Hamza Brigade in Aleppo [amid] an exchange of gunfire between both sides.”
Abdul Razzaq added that after the “brief clash” leaders of both parties “intervened to solve the dispute in the presence of delegates from the Shura Council.”
Nour al-Din al-Zenki is one of the largest rebel groups operating around Aleppo, with the Institute for the Study of War classifying it as one of only twelve groups in Syria that is a “powerbroker,” or faction powerful enough to determine “the success of military operations against either the Syrian regime or ISIS.”
The Sultan Murad Division, for its part, is one of the ethnic Turkmen fighting units active in Syria that reportedly receives weapons and training from Turkey.
Amin Nasr translated the Arabic-language source material.