Disputes escalate between Syria’s Qaeda and FSA rebels in Idlib

Militants of the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda wing in Syria. File photo

ARA News 

ERBIL – Al Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front has accused the US-backed Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) Division 13 of attacking their checkpoints and bases in northern Syria.

Previously, they had an agreement to stop fighting each other, subsequent to clashes between the two groups in early March. 

Speaking to ARA News, Nusra member Abu Saeed al-Holandi said: “We had agreed to solve the problems without violence through the court. But in the meanwhile the Division 13 are inciting their supporters.” 

“Nusra has complied with the decisions of the court, and has so far remained aloof,” he added.

The disputes could lead to renewed clashes between the rebel groups in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

“Expect Jabhat al-Nusra [Nusra Front] to retaliate versus 13th Division in Idlib tonight and or tomorrow morning. Key 24hrs ahead for shape of Idlib future,” said Charles Lister, a Resident Fellow at the Middle East Institute.

“This is a test for the U.S. policy in Syria. The United States says that it wants to reduce the influence, and work towards the defeat of Al Qaeda in Syria as much as it does to eliminate ISIS,” said Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security.

“This is a critical stage in the Syrian civil war and there is a genuine opportunity for the moderate opposition to take advantage of the cessation of hostilities to weaken ideological extremist elements within it,” he told ARA News.

According to US analysts, the United States has supported Division 13 and other vetted FSA affiliates to challenge the tightening grip of Al Qaeda and its enablers within Syrian opposition society. However, some FSA groups have allied with Nusra to fight the Syrian regime. But now the province of Idlib is mainly controlled by Syrian rebels. 

“If the U.S. misses this moment to double down support for Division 13 and its FSA allies, there may not be another opportunity before Al Qaeda embeds itself like a tick in Idlib’s civil society,” Heras added.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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