Extremists Seize Last Stronghold of Western-backed Rebels in Syria's Idlib

Dozens of Syria Revolutionaries' Front fighters defected and joined Nusra Front, says head of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding: that's why the Al-Qaida affiliate won.

Mariam Karouny
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Supporters of the Nusra Front take part in a protest against Syrian President Bashar Assad and the international coalition in Aleppo, Sept. 26, 2014.
Supporters of the Nusra Front take part in a protest against Syrian President Bashar Assad and the international coalition in Aleppo, Sept. 26, 2014.Credit: AFP
Mariam Karouny

Islamist militants affiliated to Al-Qaida seized the last remaining stronghold of Western-backed rebels in Syria's northwest province of Idlib on Saturday after days of fighting, rebels and a monitoring group said.

Backed by other hardline Islamist groups, the Nusra Front is waging a major military campaign against the Syria Revolutionaries' Front led by Jamal Maarouf, a key figure in the armed opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad, after accusing him of being corrupt and working for the West against them.

The Nusra Front is Al-Qaida's official affiliate in the Syrian civil war and was once one of the strongest insurgent groups fighting to topple Assad. But it has been overshadowed by the Islamic State group, which has seized swathes of northern and eastern Syria and is now being targeted by U.S.-led air strikes.

In the past few days, the Nusra Front captured several villages in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Idlib province and on Saturday it entered the village of Deir Sonbol, the stronghold of the Revolutionaries' Front, forcing Maarouf to pull out. "Dozens of his fighters defected and joined Nusra, that is why the group won," Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters.

A Nusra fighter confirmed the report, saying: "They left him because they knew he was wrong and delusional." "He left his fighters in the battle and pulled out. Last night, we heard them on the radio shouting 'Abu Khaled (Maarouf) escaped, Abu Khaled escaped'," he added.

Maarouf's group is loosely defined as part of the "Free Syrian Army", a term used to refer to dozens of groups fighting to overthrow Assad. They have little or no central coordination and are often in competition with each other.

Hours after his withdrawal, a defiant Maarouf issued a video statement in which he vowed to continue the fight against Nusra and said his group would return to Jabal al-Zawiya.

"For a week now, Nusra Front has put the villages of Jabal al-Zawiya under siege (as if) they were the 'Noseiry' regime, " Maarouf said in the video, using a derogatory term for Assad's Alawite sect, which is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. "I (want to) clarify why we pulled out of the villages of Jabal al-Zawiya. (It is) so that we preserve civilian blood because this group does not hesitate to kill civilians."

A source in a group affiliated to Maarouf denied that any fighters had defected to the Nusra Front.

The Syria Revolutionaries' Front is one of the biggest groups in the Western and Saudi-backed opposition to Assad.

The United States plans to expand military support to moderate opposition anti-Assad groups as part of its strategy to defeat the ultra-hardline Islamic State.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


The Orion nebula, photographed in 2009 by the Spitzer Telescope.

What if the Big Bang Never Actually Happened?

Relatives mourn during the funeral of four teenage Palestinians from the Nijm family killed by an errant rocket in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip, August 7.

Why Palestinian Islamic Jihad Rockets Kill So Many Palestinians

בן גוריון

'Strangers in My House': Letters Expelled Palestinian Sent Ben-Gurion in 1948, Revealed


AIPAC vs. American Jews: The Toxic Victories of the 'pro-Israel' Lobby

Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic speaks during a press conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia in May.

‘This Is Crazy’: Israeli Embassy Memo Stirs Political Storm in the Balkans

Hamas militants take part in a military parade in Gaza.

Israel Rewards Hamas for Its Restraint During Gaza Op