(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Syrian jihadists linked to a former al Qaeda affiliate consolidated their grip over large parts of the northwestern province of Idlib on Sunday after their main rival evacuated a major border crossing with Turkey, rebels and residents said.
Witnesses said the departing militants, of the Ahrar al Sham group, had moved a large convoy of heavy equipment and tanks and hundreds of its fighters away from the Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey and had headed to areas it controls further south in Idlib province and in the neighboring province of Hama.
Their pullout was stipulated under terms of a ceasefire deal reached on Friday following three days of heavy fighting that had pitted Ahrar al Sham, a powerful rebel group with a foothold across Syria, against Hayat Tahrir al Sham, an alliance led by al Qaeda's former Syria branch.
The al Qaeda-linked militants surrounded the other rebels near the Syria-Turkey border crossing after rapid advances in a strategic stretch of territory along the border with Turkey and after pushing ouut their rivals from main towns and villages in the province.
The fighting between the two largest rebel groups that left scores of dead and injured was by far the heaviest inter-rebel fighting since the start of the conflict.