Major Syrian rebel group quits al-Qaeda-linked coalition

Major Syrian rebel group quits al-Qaeda-linked coalition
Syrian rebel group Nour al-Din al-Zinki has walked away from the radical umbrella group as tensions between two rival opposition camps threaten war in Idlib province.
2 min read
20 July, 2017
Nour al-Din al-Zinki were crucial to rebels holding off IS in Aleppo [AFP]
Syrian rebel group Nour al-Din al-Zinki has defected from the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) coalition, as tensions between opposition factions threaten to explode in Idlib province.

Nour al-Din al-Zinki said in a statement that HTS had led opposition-held Idlib province to the brink of inter-rebel civil war.

The rebel group also accused the HTS leadership of not consulting other factions before launching assaults on the rival opposition coalition Ahrar al-Sham.

"The Nour Eddine al-Zinki movement announces its defection from Tahrir al-Sham... for failing to apply Sharia law," the group said in a statement.

It accused the HTS leadership of overriding the coalition's fatwa committee and issuing statements without the consent or knowledge of all militias.

HTS, the statement read, also did not respond to an initiative launched by "distinguished scholars" on Thursday [13 July] night.

This led to violent clashes in Idlib after HTS fighters raided an Ahrar al-Sham checkpoint.
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At the time, the al-Qaeda-linked alliance argued that Ahrar al-Sham had arrested a number of HTS fighters.

A truce was agreed between the two sides but clashes broke out again on Wednesday leaving at least 14 rebel fighters dead.

Nour al-Din al-Zinki also accused HTS of ignoring a call from the alliance's Shura [consultation] council for calm.

"[They did this] knowing that the commission was built on the principle of not inflicting injustice on other factions," the statement read.

Nour al-Din al-Zinki joined the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham coalition at the start of 2017.

HTS is an Islamist coalition led by Fatah al-Sham which officially broke ties with al-Qaeda last year.

Nour al-Din al-Zinki was previously part of the moderate Free Syrian Army and based in northern Syria.

It helped rebels fight an attempted Islamic State group takeover of Aleppo province, and was provided with arms from the US government.

Nour al-Din al-Zinki began to align ideologically with HTS during the withdrawal of its fighters to Idlib province following the fall of east Aleppo to the Syrian regime.

Allying with one of Idlib's largest and well-armed groups allowed Nour al-Din al-Zinki to survive as a semi-independent faction after a humiliating defeat in Aleppo to the Syrian regime.

Nour al-Din al-Zinki suffered a major public relations blow when some of its fighters were filmed beheading a Syrian regime-linked child fighter, argued at the time to be an adult.

Despite the announcement of the leadership, it is still unclear whether fighters from the group will follow the directive.

The New Arab has asked Ahrar al-Sham for comment on whether Nour al-Din al-Zinki had joined their coalition instead, but we are yet to receive a response.

Follow Paul McLoughlin on Twitter: @PaullMcloughlin