MESOP : Northwest Syria town rallies against Nusra – Residents of Atareb held a protest Sunday chanting in support of the Free Syrian Army.

NowMedia – 1 Mach 2016 – BEIRUT – Residents of Atareb have rallied against the Al-Nusra Front, calling on the Al-Qaeda affiliate to leave the northwestern Syrian town, one year after the group routed US-backed rebels who were based there.Dozens of locals gathered Sunday for the demonstration, carrying the iconic green-white-and black tricolor flag of the Syrian revolution and chanting in support of the Free Syrian Army.

A speaker rallying the crowd read out a statement explaining that although Atareb residents had “embraced” Nusra, the group refused to “stand” alongside the Syrian opposition.“We called on them more than once stand with these people, with the Free Syrian Army, but they refused to do anything except follow Al-Qaeda and Zawahiri and some ambiguous agenda,” the protest leader bellowed out over a megaphone.

He added that Nusra “must bear” the consequences of its decision to remain loyal to Al-Qaeda.“If they want to stay with Al-Qaeda they will have to bear the responsibility of that decision.”He also said that Atareb residents “can’t [accept] bearing the injustice of Bashar al-Assad in order to bear the injustice of Al-Qaeda and others.”

“They should leave to whatever place they want and not stay among us and the FSA,” he added.

“We are with the Free Syrian Army.”

At the end of his speech, the gathered crowd began chanting, “the FSA, forever, is the leader of this country.” Nusra in the past week has evacuated a number of its military positions in the western Aleppo countryside near the town of Atareb ahead of the Syria ceasefire.

Reports emerged Thursday that the jihadist group emptied all of its bases and checkpoints as well as the Justice House building in the town of Sarmada, which lies approximately 5 kilometers east of Atareb.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring the conflict in the war-torn country explained that Nusra had evacuated the positions to prevent them from “being used as an excuse for the targeting of [the town] by Russian and Syrian warplanes following the ceasefire deal that has been agreed for [Saturday].”

Sunday’s demonstration in Atareb comes a year after Nusra launched an assault against US-backed FSA affiliate the Hazzm Brigades in the town.

By 1 March 2015, the Syrian wing of Al-Qaeda had routed Hazzm’s fighters from their Brigade 46 base in the town, which lies 25 kilometers west of Aleppo.

NOW’s English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Ullin Hope (@UllinHope) translated the Arabic-language source material.