Lauren Williams reports: Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, has long been a central player in Syria’s civil war. But while the group may get less media coverage than the Islamic State (IS) or the Syrian government forces led by President Bashar al-Assad, recent gains have prompted some analysts to predict that the group will outlast both of these rival factions, or at the very least cement its role in the region for years to come.
The al-Nusra Front has been busy making steady gains in northern and southern Syria, consolidating ground support and controlling more and more territory.
Of particular significance was the group’s conquest of Idlib last month. The city was taken by a Nusra-led coalition of fighters from the Jund al-Aqsa, Jaish al-Sunna, Liwa al-Haqq, Ajnad al-Sham and Faynad al-Sha brigades. Together, they managed to wrest control of the city from government forces after months of fierce fighting.
While also battling the Assad government forces, the Nusra-led coalition was able to drive out other rebel opponents, fighting for Hazm Movement, a so-called moderate opposition faction. This came after the new Nusra-led coalition managed to rout another moderate coalition, the Syrian Revolutionary Front, in the province in November last year. Last week, the Nusra-led rebel coalition managed to extend these gains further, taking the city of Jisr al-Shugour, also in Idlib province, from government forces.
The victory saw Nusra and its new allies secure an important win. Not only do they now control most of Idlib, which stretches to the Turkish border, but they also have edged closer to Assad’s Alawite heartland of Latakia province.
The string of advances have helped to demonstrate Nusra’s military prowess as well as its ability to absorb other Islamist brigades, with fresh waves of recruits reportedly now trying to join Nusra.
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