Two rival Syrian rebel groups in the northern town of Azaz have agreed a ceasefire.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), linked to al-Qaeda, seized the town on Wednesday from the larger Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Fighting between rebel groups has raised fears of a war within a war.
The clashes come ahead of a deadline, on Saturday, for Syria to provide a list of its chemical weapons facilities as part of a US-Russian deal for the country to destroy its deadly arsenal.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, is currently holding talks in Damascus about the deal.
But the agreement still faces many hurdles – including the differing opinions of the US and Russia.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said a “definitive” UN report had proved that the Syrian government was behind a deadly chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta on August 21.
But Damascus – backed by Moscow – insists that rebel forces carried out the attack.
The West also wants any UN resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons to include the threat of military force in the result of non-compliance – but Russia objects to any mention of this.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview with Fox News, said it could take about a year to destroy Syria’s chemical stockpiles and could cost about $1 billion.
Under the ceasefire deal in Azaz the two rebel sides have agreed to exchange prisoners and hand back property.
Two rival Syrian rebel groups in the northern town of Azaz have agreed a ceasefire
It is unclear whether the ceasefire will have an impact on clashes between the groups elsewhere in the country.
Analysts say there is more chance that the US and other Western powers may arm the Free Syrian Army if it shows a distinct separation from the Islamists.
The fighting in Azaz began when a wounded rebel – either from ISIS or from an allied group, al-Muhajireen – was taken to a field clinic and, while there, he was filmed as part of a fundraising exercise.
The wounded fighter demanded the film, and called some of his friends to come and help him.
Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels from a unit called the Northern Storm brigade were guarding the field clinic, and there was a confrontation which ended up with ISIS launching a full attack on the town, pushing out the Northern Storm brigade.
ISIS is reported to have made a number of arrests of activists, journalists and even Sharia court officials during the time it controlled Azaz.
One eyewitness inside the town said no-one was smoking on the streets – tobacco is forbidden according to strict Islamist doctrine.
While the Azaz violence seems to have been the result of a particular set of circumstances rather than a long-planned offensive, our correspondent says there is a record of skirmishes between the Jihadis and FSA brigades for control of the border crossings into Turkey.
Meanwhile, the party of Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil insists he was misquoted in Friday’s edition of the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
Qadri Jamil reportedly told the paper that the civil war had reached stalemate, with neither government forces nor the rebels strong enough to win – and that the government would use proposed talks in Geneva to call for a ceasefire.
But the People’s Will Party said the Guardian journalist was ”neither precise nor professional” about what he quoted Qadri Jamil as saying.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said Tehran is ready to help broker peace in Syria, as part of what he called his country’s “constructive engagement” policy with other nations.
In an article in the Washington Post newspaper, Hassan Rouhani wrote: “We must create an atmosphere where peoples of the region can decide their own fates.”
Correspondents say the article is the latest signal that Hassan Rouhani wants to improve Iran’s relationship with the US and other countries that believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
Syrian rebels in the city of Aleppo have banned croissants as symbols of “colonial” oppression.
Syria is a former French colony, so some there apparently associate this culinary symbol of Frenchness with France and with imperialism more generally.
The sharia committee specifically targeted croissants, al-Arabiya reports, because the pastry’s “crescent shape celebrates European victory over Muslims.”
A fatwa against croissants might seem ridiculous, particularly in a time and place where bread shortages can be common. But there’s a serious side to the edict. Rebel-held regions of Aleppo are increasingly dominated by extremist elements, further marginalizing more moderate rebel groups and putting some Syrians at the groups’ mercy. In some areas, hardline Islamist groups have moved off the battlefield and begun setting up administrative councils and other governing and charitable bodies.
Syrian rebels in the city of Aleppo have banned croissants as symbols of “colonial” oppression
Two groups in particular – Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both affiliated with al-Qaeda – have begun to dominate rebel-held areas of the city, bringing with them a strict interpretation of sharia law. The ISIL, an affiliated group, claimed respnsibility for breaking hundreds of insurgents, including several senior al-Qaeda detainees, out of prison in Iraq.
The extremist element in previously moderate Aleppo threatens to further divide Syria’s rebel factions, which are fractious enough already. And the West is unlikely to send much-needed aid to rebels who mix with al-Qaeda – particularly when those al-Qaeda-affiliated groups are condemning even the most tangentially Western things.
In recent weeks, sharia committees in the area have also banned make-up and tight clothes for women and threatened a year in jail for anyone who fails to fast during Ramadan.
The much-repeated legend that seems to be behind the anti-croissant fatwa – that a baker in Budapest invented the treat after the city repelled an Ottoman invasion – has been debunked by food historians several times over. Most agree the bread migrated to France by way of Austria in the early 1800s. And while France did rule Syria for a period before World War II, Austria obviously never did. Then again, Syrian extremists aren’t exactly known for their nuance.
Australian Warren Rodwell, who was kidnapped 15 months ago by al-Qaeda-linked group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, has been released.
Warren Rodwell was freed on Saturday near Pagadian city in the southern Philippines, police said.
He was kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants in 2011, and had last been shown alive in a video posted on social media websites in December.
Abu Sayyaf is considered the smallest and most radical of the extremist movements in the southern Philippines.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr welcomed the news, saying the release had been the result of a joint effort by authorities in both countries.
“The Philippines government had the lead role in this case and deserve congratulations for their tireless efforts on Mr. Rodwell’s behalf,” said Bob Carr.
Warren Rodwell was freed on Saturday near Pagadian city in the southern Philippines
Bob Carr added that Warren Rodwell was being moved to a safe location and that the focus now was on his recovery.
Warren Rodwell – who runs a shop with his wife in the Philippines’ seaside town of Ipil, close to Zamboanga in south-western Mindanao – was abducted in December 2011.
A number of foreigners have been kidnapped for ransom in the southern Philippines. The Australian government has a longstanding policy of refusing to pay ransom for its citizens.
Areas within the region are used as bases by Islamist militants and rebel groups.
Abu Sayyaf militants remain a security threat in the impoverished region, where minority Muslims have been fighting for self-rule for decades.
The main Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, last year signed a peace accord with the government in exchange for broad autonomy.
But Abu Sayyaf were among the rebel groups who refused to sign up to the peace deal.
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) has announced that it has moved its command centre from Turkey to “liberated areas” inside Syria.
A video posted on YouTube appeared to show the leader of the FSA, Riad al-Asaad, confirming the move.
General Riad al-Asaad does not say in the video when the move took place, or where in Syria the FSA’s new headquarters are.
The FSA is the most prominent of the armed groups fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Thousands of Syrians have died since the initially peaceful uprising began in March 2011, with activist groups putting the toll at over 25,000.
The FSA’s move into Syria was made the previous week and “aimed to unite all rebel groups”, Brig Gen Mustafa al-Sheikh of the FSA’s military council told the Associated Press news agency.
The video which appears to show Gen. Riad al-Asaad announcing the move is entitled Communique Number One From The Inside.
In it, he says that the relocation had happened “after successful arrangements the FSA made earlier in collaboration with the combat battalions and brigades to secure liberated areas”.
He goes on to say the FSA will fight “side by side” with “all brigades and factions” until victory.
Gen. Riad al-Asaad adds the capital, Damascus, will be “liberated soon, God willing” but also rejects the idea that the FSA is seeking to replace the current regime.
The Syrian people must agree on any new government, he says.
FSA has announced that it has moved its command centre from Turkey to liberated areas inside Syria
The move is significant as the FSA has previously been criticized for leading from Turkey and being out of touch with realities on the ground.
It now seems the FSA has territory it feels is reliably under their control.
The new command centre, in a secret location, will clearly be highly vulnerable to air attack by the regime – something that could increase pressure for some kind of international air cover for the “liberated areas”.
Meanwhile, in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, a government offensive against districts where rebels have been operating has reportedly been continuing.
Graphic footage posted online on Saturday appears to show the aftermath of an airstrike in the Al-Missar quarter of the city.
Residents are shown trying to pull dead bodies from the rubble, including those of two young children.
The UK-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at nine people had died in a strike in Al-Missar.
The city has been the scene of rebel activity and heavy government bombardment for weeks.
Fighting was also reported by the Observatory between rebels and government forces in the western part of Aleppo province.
The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), a network of anti-government activists based inside Syria, said 66 people had been killed in and around Damascus on Saturday, where clashes between rebels and government forces have also been raging in recent weeks.
The LCC put the toll in Aleppo on Saturday at 47.
Also on Saturday, the Lebanese military said FSA rebels had attacked a Lebanese army border post near the town of Arsal.
The Lebanese army said in a statement that this was the second time in less than a week that the FSA had infiltrated Lebanese territory. Military reinforcements have now been moved to the area.