Syria rebel-jihadist clashes intensify, 50 dead

Beirut (AFP) –


Clashes between jihadists and rebels in northwestern Syria have killed almost 50 people over two days, a war monitor said Wednesday.

Clashes flared Tuesday between Al-Qaeda-linked coalition Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and an alliance of rebel groups in western Aleppo province.

On Wednesday the fighting spread to the neighbouring province of Idlib, the country's last opposition bastion, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"The fighting intensified and spread to the north and southeast of Idlib province," said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Observatory.

He said that 48 people have been killed, updating Tuesday's toll of 19.

HTS had on Monday accused rebel group Nureddine al-Zinki of killing five of its fighters, and launched an offensive against rebel positions.

Nureddine al-Zinki is a major player in the National Liberation Front (NLF), a Turkish-backed rebel alliance.

Abdel Rahman said Wednesday that other NLF factions had now joined the fighting, while the jihadists had advanced into seven areas.

Those killed include 24 HTS jihadists and 19 Nureddine al-Zinki fighters, the war monitor said.

HTS and other jihadist groups control more than half of Idlib province, while the NLF holds most of the rest.

The area sees frequent clashes between factions, including targeted assassinations and bomb attacks.

The NLF on Wednesday announced a "general mobilisation" to "counter (HTS) aggression".

HTS meanwhile said it had arrested "dozens" of Zinki fighters.

Syria's conflict flared with anti-government protests in 2011 that were brutally repressed, sparking a complex multi-front civil war involving a myriad of jihadist groups and foreign powers.

It has left more than 360,000 people dead and displaced millions.