/

Syria rebels arrest dozens in last bastion in alleged collusion with Assad regime

AFP-JIJI

Syrian rebel forces arrested at least 45 people Sunday in northwestern Syria over suspected collusion with Bashar Assad’s regime, rebels said.

The National Liberation Front carried out the wave of arrests in Hama and Idlib provinces, the latter of which is the last governorate in the country to fall almost entirely outside the regime’s control.

“The National Liberation Front launched a campaign a week ago … that peaked today with the arrest of 45 reconciliation activists and candidates for municipal elections announced by regime” in the region, Adham Radun told AFP on Sunday.

In total, the NLF has arrested 60 people in the ongoing campaign, he added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “nearly 50” people had been arrested in areas straddling Hama and Idlib over “attempts to reconcile with regime forces” and to take part in “meetings with its intelligence services.

After a string of victories in the country’s south, President Assad said on July 26 that Idlib was the government’s next priority.

Some 60 percent of the northwestern province is controlled by the jihadi alliance of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, led by Syria’s former al-Qaida affiliate, but other major Islamist rebel groups also maintain a presence.

Those groups include Ahrar al-Sham and Nureddine al-Zinki, who merged in February with Turkish backing as the Syrian Liberation Front.

On Aug. 1, the Syrian Liberation Front merged with four other rebel groups to form the National Liberation Front.

According to Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman, Idlib has since “seen an upsurge in security chaos and mutual assassinations between rebel groups.

The war in Syria has killed more than 350,000 people since it began in 2011 with a brutal government crackdown on protesters.

It has grown in complexity over the past seven years, drawing in world powers and jihadis.