ISIL captured the city of Azaz from the Northern Storm Brigade in September 2013. This resulted in the closure of the Bab al-Salam border crossing from Turkey further north. The Northern Storm Brigade and the al-Tawhid Brigade withdrew from the city and were stationed in its outskirts.
Full-blown conflict between ISIL and other rebel groups erupted in January 2014. In the first few days of the conflict, al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham brokered a ceasefire agreement with ISIL in the city of Aleppo and its northern countryside. However, ISIL continued its attacks on other rebel groups and killed more than 24 rebel fighters across northern Syria. The newly created Army of Mujahideen also pledged to fight ISIL in both Aleppo and Idlib.
On 16 May 2014, 9 rebel groups formed the "Free Syria Operations Room", announced the beginning of the "Battle of Northern Earthquake", and declared the northern and eastern countrysides of Aleppo a military zone. Clashes took place in and near the town of al-Rai. ISIL reinforcements then arrived in al-Rai from Jarabulus to fight the rebels.
In July 2014, ISIL launched a large-scale counter-offensive and recaptured the village of Bahwartah, north of Akhtarin, as well as 5 other villages. However, the al-Nusra Front and the Tawhid Brigade soon recaptured 3 of these villages. In response to the ISIL offensive, 11 rebel groups threatened to withdraw from the frontlines in the area due to the lack of support.
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