Nusra withdraws from Turkey border

The Al-Qaeda group refuses to assist Ankara in its bid to roll back ISIS in northwest Syria.

Nusra fighters in Aleppo. (AFP/AMC/Fadi al-Halabi)

BEIRUT – The Al-Nusra Front has announced that it was withdrawing from positions near the Turkish border because it refuses to aid Ankara in its bid to roll back ISIS in northwestern Syria.


The Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, which has played a lead role in rebel campaigns in and around Aleppo, announced in a statement late Sunday that Ankara’s plan to establish an ISIS-free safe zone ran counter to rebel interests and aimed only to further Turkey’s.


“Since the formation of the blessed Army of Conquest which has shaken the throne of the Nusairis in Syria and reached their stronghold in the Latakia Mountains… consecutive advances have continued in the Al-Ghab Plain by the grace of God and the Nusairi army has suffered consecutive defeats.”


“The Turkish government and the international coalition have decided to lead and direct the battle according to their own interests and priorities,” the Islamist group alleged.


Nusra noted that Turkey would be providing “air and artillery cover for certain Syrian opposition factions participating in that coalition as ground forces,” in reference to reports that Free Syrian Army-affiliated battalions would lead the battles against ISIS.


“We therefore announce our withdrawal from all the watch posts [on our front] against the kharijites [ISIS] north of Aleppo.”


Turkish plan “contradicts sharia”


Nusra explained that it considered participation in the Turkish-led effort against ISIS as running counter to Islamic sharia law, and that “even coordination with it is unacceptable.”


“The decision [to enter] battle now was not a strategic decision emanating from the free will of the armed factions; its first goal is [to ensure] Turkey’s national security. Furthermore, we do not believe [intervention] works in the interest of the battlefield at present, especially after the Nusairi regime has retreated and the mujahedeen have reached its stronghold in the Syrian coastal region.”


The Al-Qaeda faction also said that rebels “have the ability to combat ISIS -- if they unite through means sanctioned by sharia law… without seeking the help of international or regional forces.”


Despite its withdrawal along the Turkish border, Nusra stressed that it would continue to fight ISIS in other battlefronts across Syria.


“Any factions fighting [north of Aleppo] may take up [former bases], however we shall maintain all our other fronts with the Kharijites in semi desert [areas] of Hama [province] and Qalamoun etc., as they will not feature in the battle.”


ISIS seizes town following Nusra withdrawal


Amid Nusra’s withdrawal from its positions, ISIS launched a large offensive on the town of Umm Housh that lies a little over 20 kilometers north of Aleppo.


FSA-linked rebels had to withdraw from the town after suffering heavy losses, with ARA News reporting that 35 fighters had been killed in the heavy clashes.


A field commander from the Shamiyya Front told ARA News that two car bomb attacks by ISIS had “killed dozens of members of Liwaa al-Tawhid’s first regiment and injured dozens of other fighters.”


“These developments came after ISIS took advantage of Al-Nusra Front’s withdrawal from areas north of Aleppo and the handing over of its bases to the Shamiyya Front,” Saleh al-Zein said.


“[The handover] caused [a condition] of laxness and chaos [to prevail], so they attacked the village of Umm Housh with their car bombs and took control.”


According to ARA News Umm Housh was previously controlled by ISIS for a short period before the extremist group was driven out by Shamiyya Front fighters.

Nusra fighters in Aleppo. (AFP/AMC/Fadi al-Halabi)

The Turkish government and the international coalition have decided to lead and direct the battle according to their own interests and priorities.