A broad coalition of moderates and Islamists opposed to President Bashar al-Assad is seeking to drive ISIL, which is accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing rival rebels and civilians, from its stronghold in northern city of Raqa.

The new front in Syria's increasingly complex civil war opened less than three weeks away from a planned peace conference on Monday, for which United Nations has started sending out invitations, excluding Assad's ally Iran.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels in Raqa managed to free 50 Syrian prisoners held by the Sunni extremists, who are believed to be holding hundreds of prisoners, including foreign journalists.

Raqa is the only provincial capital lost by the regime since the conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful protests demanding democratic reform but it escalated into a full-blown war when Assad's forces launched a brutal crackdown on dissent.

The city later fell into the hands of ISIL, the latest incarnation of Al-Qaeda's Iraq affiliate, which joined the fight against the regime in 2013.

The rebels initially welcomed the battle-hardened jihadists but tensions mounted as ISIL was accused of imposing a reign of terror in areas where it operates, especially Raqa.

Three powerful rebel alliances on Friday launched what activists called a ‘second revolution’, and have advanced quickly, expelling ISIL from checkpoints and bases across Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces.

The Observatory said the main group besieging ISIL's Raqa headquarters is Al-Nusra Front, which is also affiliated with Al-Qaeda but is seen as less extreme and has long competed with ISIL to represent the global terror network in Syria.

In Aleppo, a 16-year-old ISIL suicide attacker detonated himself at a rebel checkpoint, killing one opposition fighter and wounding several more.

A key complaint among the rebels fighting ISIL is that the self-styled Islamic state sought hegemony over areas under its control while activists and rights groups accused it of torturing and killing its rivals, including with public executions.

On Monday, the body of a decapitated child was found near ISIL's headquarters in Kafranbel, Idlib, the Observatory said.


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