February 25, 2015
By Brent Eng and Osama Abu Zeid
AMMAN: Islamist rebels led by Jabhat a-Nusra, Ahrar a-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa renewed their attack against two Shiite towns in Idlib province on Wednesday in a bid to capture some of the last regime-controlled areas in the province, a rebel leader involved in the operations room told Syria Direct on Wednesday.
“This operation aims to isolate the [Shiite] towns of Fuwaa and Kafarya from each other and cut them both off from [regime-controlled] Idlib city by capturing the highway between [Idlib and the towns],” said the commander, who asked to remain anonymous.
Ahrar a-Sham and Jabhat a-Nusra-led forces managed to seize six checkpoints along the highway from Idlib city to rebel-controlled Marrat al-Misrin on Wednesday, according to the Twitter account of the Islamic Front, a collection of rebel groups including the two Islamist organizations.
Fuwaa and Kafarya are located next to the highway between Idlib city and Maraat al-Misrin.
The focal point of the fighting was farther south on the highway between Idlib city and Maraat al-Misrin, near a local school.
“Rebels captured a school after a car bomb sent by Jund al-Aqsa killed 15 members of the pro-regime National Defense Forces,” Mustafa Qantar, a freelance journalist at the battle site, told Syria Direct on Wednesday.
“The rebels targeted the school with the car bomb because it was considered the strongest point for the regime on the highway between Idlib city and Maraat al-Misrin,” Ahmed Radwan, a correspondent with a-Jabha a-Shamiya’s media team, told Syria Direct Wednesday.
At the same time, Jaish al-Islam fired missiles against Fuwaa and Kafarya from its position north of the towns in the village of Ram Hamdan, according to the Jaish al-Islam’s official Twitter account.
Jaish al-Islam cited the regime’s attack against Aleppo last week as cause for Wednesday’s attack against the Shiite towns, calling its missile fire “retaliation for Assad’s massacre in Aleppo.”
In addition to Ahrar a-Sham and Jabhat a-Nusra, Feilaq a-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa and Jaish al-Islam–all under the umbrella of a-Jabha a-Shamiya–also participated in the attack.
Rebel groups led by Jabhat a-Nusra control most of Idlib province with the main exception of its eponymous capital.
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