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Syria ex Al-Qaeda group seeks rivals' help to fight regime

Prisoners held by the Syrian government reunite with relatives during a prisoner exchange between the Syrian government and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in the countryside of the rebel-held Idlib province on May 17, 2019.
AFP
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Beirut (AFP)

The head of Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate has urged rival fighters allied to Turkey to take up arms against regime forces to ease the pressure on the jihadist bastion of Idlib.

The northwestern region has come under increasing fire by the Damascus regime and its ally Russia in recent weeks, despite a months-old buffer zone deal intended to shield the area from any government offensive.

Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) controls most of Idlib province as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

HTS chief Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, in a video released Friday on the group's messaging app Telegram, said fighters backed by Turkey "could help us by launching an operation in Aleppo, for example".

"Dispersing the enemy and opening up new fronts is in our interest," he added.

Jolani's call comes days after he urged supporters to "take up weapons" to defend Idlib.

Turkey, a longtime backer of Syria's rebels, supports various groups in Idlib to differing degrees and has actively sought to unify them.

Ankara also operates monitoring posts in Idlib, positioned in a horseshoe-shape around the edges of rebel territory, and has troops deployed to the east in Aleppo province.

The Turkish army has launched two major operations in Syria dubbed "Euphrates Shield" in 2016 and "Olive Branch" in 2018 to combat Syrian Kurdish fighters as well as Islamic State group jihadists.

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