Hundreds of Syrians who fled the city of Idleb over the past three years have returned home only hours after Islamist groups seized the city for the first time in Syria's civil war.
Fighters of the Fatah Army, an alliance of Islamist factions including Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate the Nusra Front, secured all the city’s entrances to avoid retaliation by regime forces, and to provide assistance to the city’s returning residents, a Zaman al-Wasl reporter said.
During Saturday and Sunday, dozens of Syrian regime loyalists fled the northern city without injury, the reporter said.
A field source told Zaman al-Wasl that the rebels’ main mission was to protect property including homes, cars and shops, saying peoples’ lives should continue without any fears or concerns.
Idleb’s Christian minority has also refused to flee the city as Fatah Army fighters provided special protection units to secure their neighborhoods, the reporter said.
The name ‘Fatah Army’ is a reference to the conquests that spread Islam across the Middle East from the seventh century.
The General Commander of Ahrar al-Sham Islamic movement called on rebels to work in the interests of Islam and to be modest, rejecting any desire to establish an Islamic emirate.
In a patriotic statement posted online, Hashim al-Sheikh (Abu Jaber) praised the bravery of the Fatah Army's fighters, who achieved a strategic victory in Idleb for the first time in Syria's civil war.
Abu Jaber asked residents of the city to cooperate with the rebels, assuring them the Fatah Army has no intention of creating an Islamic emirate.
Jaber warned the Syrian regime against targeting Idleb, claiming the retaliation will be by attacking the neighboring Shiite villages.
By taking Idleb, the capital of a northwestern province of the same name, hardline Islamist insurgents now control a second province after Raqqa, the ISIS stronghold which has been the recent target of US-led air strikes.
Idleb, a city whose population has been swollen by hundreds of thousands of displaced people from all over Syria, lies close to a strategic highway linking Damascus to Aleppo, and the coastal province of Lattakia – a stronghold of President Assad.