Ceasefire ends clashes between Turkey-backed rebels in north-west Syria

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Members of the Syrian National Army, known as the Free Syrian Army, ride in an armored vehicle in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar in Turkey’s Sanliurfa province, October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

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  • The jihadist HTS is invading areas controlled by Turkish-backed rebels
  • Fighting among rebels undermines campaign against Assad’s rule

AMMAN, June 19 (Reuters) – Clashes between Syrian rebel groups backed by Turkey ended on Sunday after they agreed on a ceasefire, local residents and rebel sources said, raising fears of a wider war of annihilation among opponents of the eased the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Rebel negotiators told Reuters that Turkey, which has thousands of troops stationed in north-west Syria, brokered a deal between Failaq al Sham, Levant Front, Jaish al Islam and Ahrar al Sham.

They are part of the Syrian National Army’s coalition of armed opposition groups, backed by Turkey.

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At least eight people were killed and scores injured in inter-factional fighting near the town of al Bab in northwest Syria’s Aleppo province on Saturday.

The clashes prompted Hayat Tahrir al Sham, the former al Qaeda affiliate, to deploy in areas under the control of his rivals in the Syrian National Army, stoking fears he was trying to expand beyond areas he controlled in Idlib province to expand into the Afrin region.

Under the truce, the factions returned Ahrar al Sham’s headquarters and retreated to their previous positions. The agreement

ended the specter of protracted battles.L8N2XO2RD

Northwest Syria near the Turkish border is the last part of the country still in the hands of militants trying to overthrow the Syrian president, but control has been split between jihadist factions and other Turkish-backed rebels.

Ideological differences separate Islamist militants from nationalist groups in the Free Syrian Army, which have rallied under the banner of the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army.

Turkey, with the help of the Syrian National Army, has conducted four operations in northern Syria since 2016 and has seized hundreds of kilometers of land. Rebel commanders say they have increased their willingness to support any new incursion.

The armed opposition has been plagued by power struggles since the uprising against Assad began in 2011. Turf wars have helped the Syrian president with his Iranian and Russian allies retake much of the territory previously held by rebels.

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Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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