- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2017

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Washington was implementing a “double standard” for its counterterrorism operations in Syria, allowing groups like Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — the rebranded al Qaeda cell formerly known as Jahbat al Nusra or Nusra Front — to run roughshod over Russian-backed Assad forces on the ground in the country.

“I have already said that we have the full impression, based on the experience of fighting terrorism in Syria, that the so-called Jabhat al-Nusra, or whatever it is called now, is always spared by the U.S.-led coalition forces and other states which cooperate with it,” Mr. Lavrov said during a briefing in Moscow Monday.

“In recent days new evidence has emerged that Jabhat al-Nusra in its new incarnation is being dropped from the target list. We consider this an extremely dangerous game that must be stopped,” he said, according to Reuters.

Breakaway or rebranded factions from the former al Qaeda Syrian cell began ground in the central part of the country starting in March, taking advantage of the regime’s increased focus on the ongoing fight against the so-called capital of the terror group known as ISIS or ISIL in Raqqa.

Fighters from Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, a faction of the former Syrian al Qaeda cell now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, have overrun government forces in the central Syrian cities of Qomhana and Ma’an, 30 miles south of anti-government stronghold of Idlib, according to local reports at the time.

The attacks come as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad has begun diverting his forces from battling rebel fighters in central Syria to territory held by Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL.

Damascus has taken an increasing, unilateral role in the battle against ISIS launching strikes against the terror group’s redoubts near Deir-e-Zour and elsewhere along the central Euphrates River valley. Mr. Assad’s anti-ISIS offensive, backed by Russian firepower, is seen by regional analysts as ploy to secure as much territory for the regime once the terror group is defeated.

The ensuing vacuum has allowed al Qaeda-affiliated groups to push into rebel-held territory near Idlib and Hama.

It remains unclear how far the group’s Syrian cells will push unchecked by Damascus into rebel territory. But those efforts in Syria fall in line with al Qaeda’s recent resurgence in Yemen, west Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Meanwhile, U.S.-backed Arab and Kurdish militias, fighting under the Syrian Democratic Forces banner, have pressed into the old city district of Raqqa amid heavy fighting.

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