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Ceasefire deal expands jihadist control over Syria's Idlib

Omar Haj Kadour, AFP | The town of Binnish, in Idlib province, part of territory controlled by jihadist rebels in Syria.

The main jihadist alliance in Syria's Idlib region reached a deal on Thursday, ending days of deadly fighting with rival rebels and extending its influence over the whole rebel enclave.

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The agreement brings an immediate end to the fighting between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), led by al Qaeda's former Syria affiliate, and the rival Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), according to the jihadists' propaganda website Ebaa.

"This morning, HTS and the NLF signed an agreement to put an end to ongoing fighting... and establish the control of the salvation government in all areas," Ebaa said.

The so-called "salvation government" is the administrative arm of HTS, which has been gaining ground inside Syria's last major rebel bastion in recent days.

Since September, Idlib has been shielded from a threatened government offensive by a precarious truce agreed between government ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said Thursday's deal saw the whole rebel enclave come under HTS administrative control.

Other jihadist factions -- such as the al Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen group and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) -- are present in other areas of Idlib but are allied with HTS, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

On Wednesday, a deal between HTS and rival rebel commanders saw the jihadist-led alliance take control of two parts of Idlib, Sahl al-Ghab and Jabal Shahshabo.

Last week, HTS seized dozens of villages from another NLF faction in the northeast of the enclave.

(AFP)

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