Truce ends clashes between Turkish-backed rebels in northwest Syria

Members of the Syrian National Army, known as the Free Syrian Army, drive an armored vehicle in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

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  • Jihadist HTS enters areas controlled by Turkish-backed rebels
  • Fighting between rebels undermines campaign against Assad regime

AMMAN, June 19 (Reuters) – Clashes between Turkey-backed Syrian rebel groups ended on Sunday after they agreed a truce, residents and rebel sources said, easing fears of a wider internecine war between opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Rebel negotiators told Reuters that Turkey, which maintains thousands of troops in northwestern Syria, brokered a deal between Failaq al Sham, Levant Front, Jaish al Islam and Ahrar al Sham.

They are part of the Syrian National Army coalition of Turkish-backed armed opposition groups.

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At least eight people were killed and dozens more injured on Saturday in factional fighting near the town of al Bab in Aleppo province in northwestern Syria.

The clashes have prompted Hayat Tahrir al Sham, the former offshoot of al-Qaeda, to expand into areas under the control of its rivals in the Syrian National Army, raising fears that it is seeking to expand into the beyond the areas they control in Idlib province to the Afrin region.

As part of the truce, the factions surrendered Ahrar al Sham’s headquarters and returned to their previous positions. The agreement

ended the specter of prolonged combat.L8N2XO2RD

Northwestern Syria near the Turkish border is the last part of the country still in the hands of fighters seeking to topple Syria’s president, but control has been divided between jihadist factions and other Turkish-backed rebels.

Ideological differences separate militant Islamists from Free Syrian Army nationalist groups that have banded together under the banner of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army.

Turkey, with the help of the Syrian National Army, has carried out four operations in northern Syria since 2016, seizing hundreds of kilometers of land. Rebel commanders say they have stepped up their readiness to support any further incursions.

The armed opposition has been embroiled in infighting since the uprising against Assad began in 2011. Turf wars have helped the Syrian president, along with his Iranian and Russian allies, reclaim much of territory previously held by rebels .

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Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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