Syrian Islamist group, courting West, says they will protect minorities

BEIRUT - A conservative Islamist rebel group said on Tuesday it would protect Syria's minorities, pressing a campaign in Western media to address concerns about one of the most powerful insurgent forces fighting President Bashar Assad.
Ahrar al-Sham is an ultra orthodox Salafist group and part of a military alliance including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front that captured nearly all of the northwestern province of Idlib from Assad earlier this year.
But in two opinion pieces this month - one in the Washington Post and a second in Britain's Daily Telegraph - the group has distanced itself from al-Qaida's brand of cross-border jihadism. It has denied organizational ties and sharing its ideology.
The group is a major force despite its senior leadership being wiped out in an attack last September.
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