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Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade leader Jamal Maarouf
Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade leader Jamal Maarouf
Benjamin Barthe

REYHANLI — At the beginning of this year, Jamal Maarouf was regarded as the new white knight of the Syrian insurrection. Over the course of just a few days in January, Maarouf and his men drove ISIS jihadists out of northern Syria's Idlib province. Armed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Syria Revolutionaries Front (SRF) embodied the hope that the moderate rebels could make a powerful comeback. His troops were also reported to be among the direct beneficiaries of the plan President Barack Obama announced in September, aimed at training several thousand Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS.

But the project will need to be revised. In late October, Maarouf's organization collapsed under the battering of the al-Nusra Front, Syria's "other" Islamist force and al-Qaeda affiliate. With their leading role in the fight against the Syrian regime and its allies, al-Nusra seized most of SRF's bases in Jabal al-Zawiya, a mountainous region south of Idlib. Among other things, the assailants took Maarouf's underground headquarters, which were dug into the rocks of the village Deir Soundbol to resist the Syrian army's airstrikes.

According to the information network Cham, Maarouf fled to Turkey along with many of his fighters, though others preferred to join al-Nusra. The defeat is symbolic of the rebellion's scarce hopes in northern Syria.

"Al-Nusra want to create their own emirate," says Abou Ali, an SRF fighter installed in Reyhanli, a Turkish town on the Syrian border. "They want to seize territory to emulate ISIS."

A former construction worker, Maarouf was one of the first to take up arms in the Idlib province. As leader of the Syrian Martyrs' Brigade, a group founded in 2011, he helped chase government forces away from this region.

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Two Ukrainian soldiers at a military base on the outskirts of the separatist region of Donetsk

Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Halito!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where the first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine gets underway in Kyiv, Kim Jong-un slams North Korean officials’ response to the coronavirus outbreak and Mexico’s National Registry of Missing People reaches a grim milestone. Meanwhile, Ukrainian news outlet Livy Bereg looks at the rise of ethnic separatism across Russia’s federal regions.

[*Choctaw, Native American]

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