Dramatically complicating the situation in Syria’s Civil War, as well as the ongoing peace talks, heavy fighting has erupted in the Idlib Province between the moderate rebel factions and a jihadist bloc dominated by al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
Unlike previous skirmishes where everyone offers a different narrative, this time everyone seems to agree that the Nusra Front started it, attacking several positions belonging to moderate factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), from the factions of the group participating in the Astana peace talks.
The moderate rebels had long argued that Nusra was included in the peace process, despite all the paperwork explicitly excluding them, because they changed their name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which from the rebel perspective made them a whole new group. Complaints aside, the ceasefire has held with Nusra excluded, both from the ceasefire and the peace talks.
While the moderates presented Nusra’s attack as a shock, and for no apparent reason, Nusra insisted it was all about the Astana talks, saying that they attacked the FSA to thwart their “conspiracies” against them, saying they view those participating in the talks as plotting against them.
This risks turning Idlib Province, which is packed with rebel factions from various evacuation deals, into a whole separate conflict with different factions involved, greatly weakening what is left of the non-ISIS rebels, and likely bringing Turkey’s invasion further west to defend its rebel allies.
At the same time, it may provide a bit more clarity for rebel negotiators in the Astana peace talks, since they no longer have to keep up the narrative that the al-Qaeda affiliate is a “moderate” group that is being unfairly targeted.