Syrian rebels oust al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists from northern city of Raqqa

The Guardian reports: Syrian rebels have ousted a hardline al-Qaida group from the provincial capital of Raqqa, freeing more than 50 hostages in a fourth day of clashes across the north of the country.

The fight against the group, the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (Isis), comes as members of the same group remain in control of much of Ramadi and Falluja, despite similar attempts to oust them by the Iraqi military.

Rebel groups in Syria have made sweeping advances against Isis since first taking on the powerful militia on Friday. Since then, many of its members have withdrawn from most of the Turkish border areas it had held for at least six months.

Others have left the group to join another al-Qaida organisation, Jabhat al-Nusra, or more mainstream opposition groups, including the remnants of the Free Syria Army and a powerful new alignment of Islamic units.

Raqaa is the only provincial capital to have fallen out of the hands of the Syrian regime. Held first by the Free Syria Army, by June last year had become a stronghold for Isis, which then imposed a ruthless interpretation of sharia law on what remained of the town’s population.

Scores of captives, among them journalists and aid workers, had been detained by Isis in government buildings. Those freed on Monday appeared to all be Syrians. It is understood that the western captives had earlier been moved to another location. [Continue reading…]

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