BEIRUT Oct 9 A powerful Syrian Islamist
insurgent group on Sunday pledged allegiance to former al Qaeda
branch Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a statement circulated by rebel
officials and reported by a monitoring group said.
The Jund al-Aqsa group said it was trying to settle
differences with Ahrar al-Sham, with which it has been fighting
for days in the northwestern Idlib province, so as not to weaken
rebel fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Government forces in recent days have captured territory
from rebels taking advantage of infighting, the Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights has reported.
The Observatory, which also reported Jund al-Aqsa's
announcement, said the group was seeking the protection of
Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
Jund al-Aqsa's statement - circulated by rebel officials
from other groups and carrying the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham stamp -
did not say how pledging allegiance to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham
would mend its relationship with Ahrar al-Sham.
The move appears to formalise Jund al-Aqsa's ties with
Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front, which changed
its name in July and said it was breaking from the al Qaeda
network founded by Osama bin Laden.
Jund al-Aqsa, which is on the U.S. State Department's list
of terrorist groups, has been heavily involved in fighting in
the west and north of Syria including around Aleppo in the most
recent months of the five-year-old civil war that has killed
hundreds of thousands of people.
Syria's Islamist insurgents have eclipsed more moderate and
Western-backed nationalist rebel groups in the conflict.
Nusra Front's breaking of ties from al Qaeda appeared aimed
at assuaging Syrians who had misgivings about its links with
foreign jihadists. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said at the
time that the split would help unite Syrian insurgents.
(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Louise Ireland)