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Aleppo, Syria – On Saturday, fighters from al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front drove rebels of the Western-backed Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) from their bastion in the northwestern province of Idlib after 24 hours of combat.
The defeat, in which some of the SRF fighters deserted and joined al-Nusra, is seen as a blow to U.S. efforts to create and train a moderate rebel force as a counterweight to jihadists and the forces of the Syrian regime.
Al-Nusra captured Deir Sinbel and also controls most of the other towns and villages in the Jabal al-Zawiya area.
Militants of al-Nusra also seized SRF’s arms and tanks, and some of the rebels swore allegiance to the group, while others fled.
According to the Syrian Observatory, al-Nusra was backed by militants from the Islamic State (IS/ISIL) group in this operation, whereas the two organizations are opposing each other vehemently elsewhere in Syria.
The SRF, backed by the West and various Arab countries, favors the establishment of a democratic state in a post-Assad Syria.
With the loss of its bastion in Idlib, the SRF now only has a presence in southern Syria.
The head of the moderate rebels of the SRF, Jamaal Maarouf, issued a statement addressing al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, saying: “You have tarnished the name of Islam, and you have tarnished religion. Why do you fight us? Go away, fight the regime!”
“You are nothing; you are just like Baghdadi (leader of IS)… you bastard,” Maarouf angrily said.
Idlib province, now lost to al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, was one of the first areas controlled by Syrian rebels, SRF, following the outbreak of the anti-Assad revolution in March, 2011.
Reporting by: Haya al-Abdullah