Al-Qaeda affiliate clashes with rebel group for control of key Syria province

Vastavam web: A former Al-Qaeda affiliate was locked in fierce clashes today with a leading rebel group for control of one of the last major parts of Syria not held by the regime.The clashes in Syria’s Idlib province in the country’s northwest pit the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) against the key rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, which is supported by Turkey and some Gulf countries.But growing tensions between the two have been exacerbated, analysts say, by HTS’s fears of a plan to expel the internationally designated “terror” group from the province.

The current fighting erupted on Tuesday and quickly spread throughout the province, including overnight to the key Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said. “The fighting is now inside the crossing. It has become a battlefield, with part of it under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s control, and part under Ahrar al-Sham’s control,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, said.HTS also seized two villages and dispatched “huge military reinforcements” to a third to take on Ahrar al-Sham, he added. HTS is dominated by the Fateh al-Sham faction, which was previously known as Al-Nusra Front before renouncing its ties to Al-Qaeda.

The clashes have been accompanied by sporadic demonstrations against HTS in several parts of the province, including in the town of Saraqeb where the jihadists on Wednesday and Thursday opened fire on protests against them. On Wednesday, the shots killed a media activist participating in the demonstrations in the town.The Observatory four civilians and the media activist were among the 15 civilians who have lost their lives in the violence so far. It also reported that 68 fighters from both sides had been killed. Experts said the outbreak of violence comes against the backdrop of a deal agreed in the Kazakh capital Astana in May for four “de-escalation zones” in Syria.