January 28, 2017 / 4:29 PM / 10 months ago

Syria Islamist factions, including former al Qaeda branch, join forces: statement

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Several Syrian Islamist factions including al Qaeda’s former branch in the country said on Saturday they were joining forces, as clashes between jihadists and more moderate rebels raged on in northwestern areas.

An online statement issued by the Islamist factions announced the formation of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Committee).

It said the alliance was formed to mend splits among insurgent groups and strengthen opposition to the Damascus government.

The signatories were Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, the Nour al-Din al-Zinki group, Liwa al-Haqq, Jaish al-Sunna and Jabhat Ansar al-Din.

The powerful Fateh al-Sham this week launched attacks against more moderate rebel factions west of Aleppo and in the insurgent stronghold province of Idlib, and routed at least one Free Syrian Army faction.

Some groups fighting against the former al Qaeda branch also joined forces earlier in the week under another powerful but less hardline Islamist group, Ahrar al-Sham.

The two tacit alliances formed on both sides of the rebels’ infighting, while some other groups have remained outside either camp, show the sharp split between the jihadist section of the insurgency fighting President Bashar al-Assad, and the more moderate, foreign-backed groups.

On Saturday, Fateh al-Sham took over at least one village from rebels in Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Reporting by John Davison; editing by Ralph Boulton

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