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Friday, January 3, 2014

Syrians Protest Assad and Islamist Militants

As my colleagues Hwaida Saad and Rick Gladstone report, Syrian opposition activists said that an alliance of seven rebel groups launched attacks across northern Syria on Friday against the jihadist militants who call themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS â€" a powerful Qaeda affiliate that includes foreign fighters.

Video and images posted online by activists appeared to show that anti-ISIS protesters took to the streets in the city of Aleppo and in rural areas near the Turkish border that remain outside government control.

A small number of protesters even gathered in the village of Kafranbel, where ISIS militants kidnapped eight media activists and destroyed an independent radio station last week, according to Raed Fares, the director of the town’s media center, who is currently on a speaking tour in the United States.

Speaking to The Lede by telephone from Detroit, Mr. Fares said that the protesters â€" who held up several of the witty banners the village is famous for online â€" were few in number partly because of the recent raid by ISIS, which established a base outside the town, and partly because the government had recently taken to shelling parts of Kafranbel used for demonstrations. He added that while six of those detained last week by ISIS have been released, two are still missing.

According to Mr. Fares, the ISIS crackdown on his team of media activists in Kafranbel helped convince rebels from the Free Syrian Army it was time to move against the Islamists outside the village and across Idlib Province.

Many of the signs and banners held up by protesters referred to abuses by the fundamentalist militants, including the torture and execution of Hussein Suleiman, a prominent activist doctor in the Aleppo area who used the name Abu Rayan. According to the Activists News Association, an opposition media network founded by the British-Syrian blogger Rami Jarrah, who writes as Alexander Page, a placard held up at a protest in Aleppo decried both the killing of Abu Rayan by ISIS and the murder of another doctor blamed on government forces.

Video posted online by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain with a network of activists inside Syria, was said to show protesters marching in Aleppo on Friday, chanting that President Assad and the Islamist rebel militia were both enemies of their revolution.

Writing on his @AlexanderPageSY Twitter feed, Mr. Jarrah shared what he described as a video clip recorded in Aleppo as members of the Free Syrian Army detained the local ISIS commander.

According to Mr. Jarrah’s Activist News Association, video posted on YouTube on Friday showed a demonstration in the village of Kafar Taharim, “dedicated to Dr. Hussein Suleiman, tortured and killed by ISIS.” Among the chants, the activists said, was “May God Protect the Free Syrian Army!”

Video said to have been recorded during a demonstration on Friday in Kafar Taharim, a Syrian village about eight miles from the Turkish border.

The same group reported on Facebook that a second clip recorded later showed “the moment demonstrators were fired upon by ISIS” as the militants attempted to disperse the protesters.

Video said to have been recorded on Friday as Islamist militants dispersed a protest in Kafar Taharim with live fire.

Hassan Hassan, a Syrian-born journalist who is now an editor for the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, saluted the protesters and drew attention to several placards, including one that denounced ISIS as “the REGIME State in Syria and Iraq.”

Another selection of placards shared online, said to have been displayed at Friday’s protests, included one sign that read “journalists… then doctors… and what next?” in reference to the ISIS enemies list.

Charles Lister, a fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar drew attention to video that terrified many Syrian viewers â€" a clip said to have been recorded in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, showing a group of young militants singing at an ISIS training camp for boys named for the Qaeda militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

A propaganda video said to show the “Cubs of Camp al-Zarqawi” training to be Islamist militants in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

Liam Stack contributed reporting.