The Free Syrian Army-affiliated Northern Division, Mountain Hawks Brigade and Division 13 announced their merger into the new fighting force.
BEIRUT – Free Syrian Army-affiliated rebel factions in northwestern Aleppo have announced the formation of a new group dubbed the Free Idlib Army.
On Thursday, officers from the Northern Division, Mountain Hawks Brigade and Division 13 announced their “complete unity in the Free Idlib Army,” declaring that they were dissolving “previous titles under one organization and one leadership.”
“We are working under God’s judgment to defend our people… and to support all our brothers who share this lofty and noble goal with us,” the spokesperson for the group said in their opening video statement.
In an interview with Qasioun News, one of the leaders of Free Idlib Army said its formation came after “numerous and longstanding appeals from civilians in liberated regions to unite,” adding that the new group will “protect the principles of the Syrian revolution.
According to reports in pro-opposition media, Mountain Hawks Brigade chief Colonel Hassan Hajj Ali was selected as the leader of the Free Idlib Army, while Northern Division commander Fares al-Bayoush was appointed deputy leader, with Colonel Afif Sleiman assuming the post of military council chief.
The Free Idlib Army counts on a fighting force of 6,000 combatants, 200 of them officers, according to the group’s new deputy leader.
Meanwhile, Division 13 chief Ahmad Saud explained that the Free Idlib Army’s main bases will be in the southern Idlib towns of Maaret al-Numaan and Kafr Nabl, whose residents in the past have protested against the Nusra Front.
Nusra attacked a Division 13 base in Maaret al-Numaan in March 2016, sparking an angry response from the town’s residents against the jihadist group, which rebranded itself as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in July after dropping its official ties with Al-Qaeda.
Despite the bitter relationship between Division 13 and Nusra, Saud said that the Free Idlib Army will seek to “coordinate with the Army of Conquest,” the rebel coalition spread across the Idlib province which includes Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
However, a source told the pro-rebel 7al.me outlet that the Free Idlib Army will not participate in any military operations alongside Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
NOW’s English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated Arabic-language material.