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Main rebel groups in Syria's Aleppo

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

After nine months of fighting that has devastated many districts in Aleppo, rebels now control more than half of the northern Syrian city.

Two mainstream groups are managing the "liberated" areas in Syria's former commercial and industrial hub. The jihadists have the high ground, followed by fighters backed by Syria's main opposition National Coalition.

Government troops control parts of Aleppo's northwest as well an area of the historic centre of the city around the Citadel, while the rebels are tightening their grip on an arch linking the northeast to southwest.

The most important rebel groups in the city are the jihadist Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, as well as Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Liwa al-Tawhid, which includes army deserters and anti-regime civilians.

Liwa al-Tawhid, which has 8,000 fighters, is present on all fronts of the city, while Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham are fighting around military bases to seize ammunition.

Haji Marea, the commander of Liwa al-Tawhid is part of the Supreme Military Council, headed by Selim Idriss.

Marea insists on not accepting funds or arms from any organisation, although the Syrian opposition coalition says it provides funding for the rebels.

Marea says there are only "five to six foreign fighters" in his brigade, but Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, which refuse to disclose the number of their rebels, have many foreigners, mainly from Arab countries.

The head of Al-Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, but distanced his group from claims of a merger with Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Al-Nusra, which is on Washington's list of terrorist organisations, wants to install an Islamic regime in Syria in the event that President Bashar al-Assad falls. It has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks across Syria, including many suicide bombings.

The leaders of the Ahrar al-Sham, which also wants an Islamic state, are all Syrian.

At the end of December, Ahrar al-Sham announced the creation of an Islamic front grouping a dozen of other organisations including Ansar al-Sham, Liwa al-Haq and Jamaat al-Taliaa.

On the ground, Ahrar al-Sham fight sometimes alongside the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army and Al-Nusra, joining in attacks on regime military targets -- but apparently refrains from taking part in suicide bombings.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130411/main-rebel-groups-syrias-aleppo