Syrian rebel fighters from the Faylaq al-Rahman brigade hold a position inside a tunnel in Ain Tarma, in the eastern Ghouta area, a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus, on August 16, 2017. AFP / AMER ALMOHIBANY
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Syria's opposition has lost one of its most powerful factions with the collapse of Islamist heavyweight Ahrar al-Sham, which once walked a fine line between extremists and more mainstream rebels. The group has been decimated by deadly fighting, with a former Al-Qaeda affiliate emerging the winner in the only Syrian province entirely beyond regime control.By the time a cease-fire deal was reached and the guns fell silent, Ahrar had been devastated.Founded in late 2011, Ahrar was one of the most well-organized groups battling Syrian President Bashar Assad's government. The conservative Islamist faction boasted an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters and a popular base in Idlib.Ahrar fought alongside one-time Al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front, which has now rebranded and is a major component of HTS, to capture most of Idlib in 2015 .Less than two weeks after the fighting died down, Ahrar announced that a longtime Islamist dissident who spent years in regime prison would take the helm as its new leader.
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