Merger between Syria's two largest non-jihadi opposition groups
The two largest non-jihadi Syrian opposition factions have merged under the name Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya, or the Islamic Free Men of the Levant, it was announced on Sunday.
Harakat Ahrar Ash-Sham al-Isamiya and Alwiyat Suqour al-Sham operate in Idlib province and have previously worked under the umbrella 'the Islamic Front'.
The leaders of the two armed groups Hashim al-Sheikh, known by his nom de guerre Abu Jaber, and Abu-Issa al-Sheikh, appeared in a video together to announce the merger.
Operating under one command structure, they say the merger is necessary for opposition groups to deal with numerous challenges in northern Syria.
|The merged factions agreed to continue on the path of the revolution.
- Abu Jaber, rebel leader
"The merged factions agreed to continue on the path of the revolution aimed at toppling the Syrian regime and all its institutions and leaders. They refused any compromise over the blood of the martyrs," Abu Jaber said.
At the end of the statement, the new commander asked all Syrian opposition groups to unite under centralised military structures.
Although the Idlib countryside is largely controlled by opposition forces, the administrative centre in the city of Idlib is still under regime rule.
Rebels appear ready to launch an attack on the Syrian army stronghold soon, as part of a larger offensive to push out the regime from the province.
This includes the regime bases al-Qarmid and al-Mastouma, the city of Ariha, and Jebel al-Arbaain in the countryside.
Control of these areas will be essential for the opposition before they take Idlib city.
Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya became the largest Syrian opposition faction in the countryside of Idlib after al-Nusra Front eliminated the moderate Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the Hazm movement at the end of 2014.
Alwiyat Suqour al-Sham is smaller in size and influence, but has a strong presence in northern parts of Idlib.
|The estimated relative strengths of the fighters on the ground. Click here for large image.|
This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.