BEIRUT (Reuters) - A rebel group in northern Syria handed control of a major border crossing to a Turkey-backed Syrian opposition government on Tuesday, a senior rebel official said.
By handing over the Bab Salama crossing at the Turkish border, the Jabha Shamiya rebel group aims to strengthen the opposition government and help put an end to factional rivalries, the head of its political office Khaled Aba said.
He urged other rebels to follow Jabha Shamiya’s example by handing over other crossings at the Turkish border.
“The interim government is the solution for the liberated areas to put an end to terrorism, to put an end to factionalism and the state of division in the liberated areas,” said Aba, a member of the opposition delegation to Geneva peace talks.
The Bab Salama crossing is the main gateway into an opposition-held area of the north where neighboring Turkey carved out a de facto buffer zone during a military incursion targeting Islamic State and Kurdish groups last year.
Efforts have been underway in that area to merge and organize a plethora of rebel groups whose rivalries have led to factional fighting that has weakened the Syrian opposition throughout the conflict.
Jabha Shamiya, a major force in Aleppo until the Syrian government and its allies defeated the opposition there last year, has joined a “national army” operating under the authority of the interim government’s defense ministry, Aba said.
It has also handed control of its training camps to the defense ministry, he said.
The opposition government is based out of the town of Azaz, a short distance from the Turkish border.
Launched last year, Turkey’s “Euphrates Shield” operation drove Islamic State out of a swathe of territory including the cities of al-Bab and Jarablus, preventing any further territorial gains by Kurdish groups deemed a threat by Ankara.
Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Janet Lawrence