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Jabhat al-Nusra, which wants to oust Assad and replace his regime with an Islamic state, first emerged in a video posted online in January 2012. Since then, it has demonstrated its prowess — and ruthlessness — on the battlefield.
It has claimed responsibility for many of the deadliest suicide bombings against Syrian government institutions and military facilities. The group’s success helped fuel a surge in its popularity among rebel fighters, although it has also emerged as a source of friction with more moderate and secular brigades in Syria.
U.S. expected to increase aid to Syrian rebels
The Obama administration’s next step in aid to Syrian rebels is expected to be a broader package of non-lethal assistance, including body armor and night-vision goggles.
Administration officials say an announcement of the new aid is not imminent. But Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the administration had been holding intense talks on how to boost assistance to the rebels fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Britain and France have already been shipping armor, night-vision goggles and other military-style equipment to the rebels.
Kerry is holding meetings Wednesday in London with Syrian opposition leaders.
Iraqi officials say the groups are sharing three military training compounds, logistics, intelligence and weapons, and are growing in strength around the Syria-Iraq border.
One of the most dramatic attacks by the group — and at the time the clearest indication of cross-border cooperation with al-Qaida in Iraq — came on March 4, when 51 Syrian soldiers were killed in a well-coordinated ambush. The Syrians had crossed into Iraq to seek refuge following clashes with rebels on the Syrian side of the border.
Inside Syria, the news of Jabhat al-Nusra’s fealty to al-Qaida mattered little to some activists, for whom the fight against the regime is paramount.
Abu Raed, an activist in Aleppo province, said the merger "is of no interest to anyone here."
"The rebels in Syria have one common goal, which is toppling the regime of Bashar Assad and anything that comes from the outside is of no interest to us," Abu Raed said, giving only an alias because of security concerns. "There is room for different opinions in the revolution and the important thing is the common goal."
Also Wednesday, activists said at least 42 people were killed in clashes between regime forces and rebels in the villages of Sanamein and Ghebgha in the southern province of Daraa, including 16 fighters and three soldiers.
Fighting in the province has escalated in recent weeks as fighters capitalize on an influx of weapons to advance in the strategically important region along the border with Jordan.
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