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Insurgent groups clash

Clashes have broken out in northwestern Syria between two of the most powerful insurgent groups there raising fears of widespread violence in the rebel-held province of Idlib, the groups and an opposition monitor said Saturday.

The fighting between the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-linked Hay'at Tahrir al Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee — that is also known as HTS, are the first serious acts of violence since both sides reached a truce in February. Wider clashes between the two former allies could affect their fight against President Bashar Assad's forces who have been gaining ground over the past year under the cover of Russian airstrikes.

Idlib has taken on greater significance in Syria's civil war as opposition fighters and militants head, or are driven, there from the country's central and northern regions. Bordering Turkey, Idlib has welcomed thousands of insurgents who left the country's largest city of Aleppo when it fell to Assad's forces in December in the government's biggest victory since the crisis began in March 2011.

Hundreds of others also headed to Idlib this year from suburbs of the capital Damascus and the central city of Homs as part of population transfer deals with the government.

Ahrar al-Sham said in a statement Saturday that the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee is sending reinforcements to the town of Saraqeb and the Jabal al-Zawiya region in preparation for an attack. It accused HTS of acts of "tyranny."

The Ibaa News Agency of HTS accused Ahrar al-Sham of setting up checkpoints and detaining one of its commanders and his bodyguard, adding that HTS removed the checkpoints later by force.



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