Mar 29, 2015
BEIRUT: Islamic fighters led by al-Qaida's branch in Syria seized almost full control of the northwestern city of Idlib on Saturday, taking over major roundabouts and government buildings in a powerful blow to President Bashar Assad whose forces rapidly collapsed after four days of heavy fighting, opposition activists and the extremist group said.
Idlib, a major urban center with a population of around 165,000 people, is the second provincial capital to fall into opposition hands after Raqqa, now a stronghold of the Islamic State group. Its capture by the Nusra Front underscores the growing power of extremist groups in Syria who now control about half the country.
Opposition fighters including Nusra have controlled the countryside and towns across Idlib province since 2012, but Assad's forces have managed to maintain their grip on Idlib city, near the border with Turkey, throughout the conflict.
On Saturday, Islamic fighters jubilantly swept in, taking over key buildings and tearing down posters of Assad. Videos posted online by activists and the Nusra Front showed a group of heavily armed fighters kneeling down in prayer in the city's sprawling Hanana square as others fired their guns in celebration.