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Syrian faction crushed as former al-Qaeda affiliate turns on allies

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as Nusra, reported to have destroyed Jaish al-Mujahideen in campaign against FSA
JFS launched a wide offensive against FSA rebels on Tuesday (AFP)

Al-Qaeda's former affiliate in Syria has taken over northwestern areas of the country after effectively crushing a faction of the Free Syrian Army, two FSA officials said on Wednesday.

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, launched a major attack on FSA groups in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, including the Jaish al-Mujahideen group in Aleppo province, which the FSA officials said had been wiped out.

Fateh al-Sham was al-Qaeda's official affiliate in the Syrian war until it officially broke the ties with it last year.

The factions it attacked on Tuesday had representatives at a Russian-backed peace conference in Kazakhstan.

On Tuesday, the group said in a statement that it had launched its campaign after being "sidelined" by groups "trying to divert the course of the revolution towards reconciliation with the criminal regime (of President Bashar al-Assad)".

"It was incumbent on us to stop these conspiracies before they happened... We did this militarily, by stopping breaches, and politically, by scuppering these foreign projects, annihilating them and ensuring they are not repeated."

'Nusra wants to end the FSA'

One FSA official said he expected other factions to face the same fate as Jaish al-Mujahideen unless they could get better organised to defend themselves.

"Nusra wants to end the FSA," said the FSA official. If it succeeded, "the ones who attended Astana will be finished".

Ahrar al-Sham, a major Islamist faction that also fights in the Idlib area, issued a general call-up of fighters to "stop the fighting in any form".

Coming down on the side of the FSA groups, it accused Fateh al-Sham of rejecting mediation efforts that the FSA groups had accepted.

Ahrar al-Sham, a conservative Islamist group, is widely believed to be backed by Turkey. In a voice message posted on YouTube on Wednesday, Ahrar al-Sham leader Abu Ammar al-Omar said:

"If the fighting continues and if one party continues to do an injustice to another, then we will not allow this to pass, regardless of the cost, even if we become victims of this."

Elsewhere in Syria, six Russian bombers targeted Islamic State positions in the northern province of Deir Ezzor.

The official TASS news agency said the planes had taken off from Russian territory to launch the latest in several strikes on militants in the same area in recent days.

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