Ethan Barton — Washington Examiner March 28, 2015
Al Qaeda-led Islamic fighters captured the major Syrian city Idlib Saturday after four days of heavy fighting, seizing major roundabouts and government buildings from President Bashar Assad, the Associated Press reported.
Idlib’s capture by the Nusra Front, an ultra-conservative rebel group, marks the second provincial capital after Raqqa to be usurped from Assad. Extremist groups now control about half the country.
Despite their control of the surrounding areas since 2012, until Saturday, Assad was able to keep opposition fighters out of Idlib, a city near the Turkish border with a population around 165,000 people.
Nusra posted videos and pictures of its push into the city as forces took over key buildings, tore down posters of Assad, burned Syrian flags and claimed landmarks as its own.
Conquering Idlib, which is near a major highway that connects Damascus to Aleppo, gave the Nusra Front a foothold in the land it controls stretching from the Turkish border to central and southern Syria.
Nusra also led victories in the town of Busra Sham in southern Syria earlier this week.
Since the Arab Spring uprising in March 2011, more than 220,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict.