Syrian rebels unite against former Al-Qaeda affiliate

Fateh al-Sham excluded from ceasefire

DAMASCUS -Several Syrian rebel factions united on Thursday against the war-torn country's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, as clashes raged for a third day between anti-regime forces.
Five rebel groups joined the powerful Ahrar al-Sham group to fight against the Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front last year after breaking ties with Al-Qaeda.
The clashes erupted earlier this week as rebels attended peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, building on a fragile nationwide ceasefire.
Fateh al-Sham, which is excluded from the ceasefire and did not attend the Astana talks, has accused rebels of having brokered a deal to "fight Fateh al-Sham and isolate it".
On Tuesday, the jihadist group attacked a base belonging to the Jaish al-Mujahideen faction, sparking fighting between it and rebel groups in the northern provinces of Idlib and neighbouring Aleppo.
"In the past hours a series of aggressions have targeted our blessed revolution, leading to total confrontation," Ahrar al-Sham said in a statement on Thursday.
This caused five rebel groups including Jaish al-Mujahideen and Suqur al-Sham to ask to become part of Ahrar al-Sham, it said.
"All attacks against members of the movement or its bases will be considered as a declaration of war," the statement warned.
The infighting comes after years of Fateh al-Sham battling alongside rebels against President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Idlib province, which is the last major bastion of the armed opposition.
But Fateh al-Sham has been hit in recent weeks by a series of deadly air strikes, most believed to have been carried out by the US-led coalition fighting jihadists.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, has said Fateh al-Sham appears to believe that local rebels were providing coordinates for the air strikes.
Both the Islamic State group and Fateh al-Sham are excluded from the nationwide truce in force since December 30.
Syria's conflict has killed more than 310,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
It has since evolved into a complex war, with the rise of jihadist groups and the involvement of international powers.