Villagers confront jihadist rebels in northern Syria

Several tense confrontations have broken out in the past week between residents of largely rebel-held northwestern Syria and hardline Islamist insurgents, witnesses said on Sunday.

A number of such altercations took place around Atme in Idlib province, where the residents generally support the hardline Al-Nusra Front group, who are spearheading attacks against forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

Al-Nusra, which is believed to be closely linked to Al-Qaeda in Iraq and which has a number of foreign fighters, has been blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organization.

There was almost an armed clash between Al-Nusra and local rebel fighters near Atme when the group attempted to try a man in an Islamic court for swearing, witnesses told AFP.

Locals then kidnapped an Al-Nusra leader, put a grenade in his mouth and cut off his beard, before releasing him a few days later, the witnesses said.

Al-Nusra front has claimed the bulk of the deadly suicide bombings that have rocked Syria since its March 2011 uprising against Assad turned into a blood civil war which the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people.

There was almost an armed clash between Al-Nusra and local rebel fighters.