Syrian rebel group says exits Islamist alliance to refocus fight

Reuters , Sunday 3 Jan 2016

File Photo: Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front drive in a convoy as they tour villages, in the southern countryside of Idlib, December 2, 2014 (Reuters)

A Syrian insurgent group said on Sunday it was pulling out of a coalition of Islamist factions operating in the northwest of the country, in order to redeploy around Aleppo where pro-government forces have intensified assaults in recent months.

Since Russia's intervention in the Syria conflict in September with an air campaign to support President Bashar al-Assad, pro-government forces have stepped up offensives in the west and north of the country.

Government forces backed by Iranian troops and Russian air strikes have advanced in Aleppo province, edging closer to a major rebel-controlled highway.

Failaq al-Sham said in a statement that it was withdrawing from the Army of Conquest, which includes the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and powerful Islamist group Ahrar al Sham, and which captured most of neighbouring Idlib province in 2015.

"As enemies from inside and abroad, the regime and its Shabiha (militias), Shia and Russians concentrate efforts on bringing down the Aleppo region, we are giving priority to supporting revolutionaries in the Aleppo area," the statement, posted online, said.

"We therefore announce our exit from the Army of Conquest operations room, which has finished its mission in the battle to conquer Idlib."

The statement did not indicate any tension with other groups within the Army of Conquest.

While pro-government forces have advanced in the southern Aleppo countryside and in the western coastal province of Latakia, rebels have managed to advance in other areas including Hama province, where anti-tank missiles supplied to insurgent groups have been used effectively.

Pro-government forces have in recent days also tried to push forward against insurgents in Hama province, Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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