BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham said on Thursday six other rebel factions had joined its ranks in northwestern Syria in order to fend off a major assault by a powerful jihadist group.
The hardline Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, once allied with al Qaeda and formerly known as the Nusra Front, attacked Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups west of Aleppo this week, accusing them of conspiring against it at peace talks in Kazakhstan this week.
Ahrar al-Sham, which presents itself as a mainstream Sunni Islamist group, sided with the FSA groups and said Fateh al-Sham had rejected mediation attempts. The Ahrar statement said that any attack on its members of was tantamount to a “declaration of war”, and it would not hesitate to confront it.
Reuters could not immediately reach any of the groups in question.
Ahrar al-Sham is considered a terrorist group by Moscow and did not attend the Russian-backed Astana peace talks. But it said it would support FSA factions that took part if they secured a favourable outcome for the opposition.
The attack by Fateh al-Sham had threatened to wipe out the FSA groups which have received backing from countries opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including Gulf Arab states, Turkey and the United States.
While Jabhat Fateh al-Sham has often fought in close proximity to FSA rebels against Assad, it also has a record of crushing foreign-backed FSA groups.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)