Qaeda in Syria calls for power-sharing in Idlib city

Fighters from a coalition of Islamist forces walk on March 29, 2015 in the Syrian city of Idlib, the second provincial capital to fall from government control (AFP Photo/Zein Al-Rifai)

Beirut (AFP) - Islamists in Syria's northwestern city of Idlib should set aside their differences and rule the city together, the head of Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate said in an audio message published Wednesday.

Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, chief of Syria's Al-Nusra Front, said his group does not "want to monopolise rule over Idlib city," which was recently taken over by an Islamist coalition.

He also stressed the importance of "quickly establishing a religious court to judge over people and to end disputes," in a speech published by Al-Nusra's official Manara station on YouTube and Twitter.

Jolani's message came four days after Al-Nusra and other Islamist groups seized Idlib from regime forces.

It was unclear whether the city would be ruled by religious courts or if the various factions would fight among themselves for control of it.

Jolani called on the Islamist groups to set aside differences and join forces "for the victory of Islam and Muslims."

"Maintaining control over the city is harder than taking it over... Because our enemies and critics are betting on our disputes, our poor behaviour and our failure," he said.

Idlib is the second city to fall entirely into rebel hands after the northern city of Raqa, which is now ruled by Al-Nusra's jihadist rival, the Islamic State group.

Al-Nusra and its allies already control a large portion of Idlib province after a November offensive in which they ousted several Western-backed opposition groups.

In July, Jolani announced that Al-Nusra sought the establishment of an "emirate" in Syria that would rival IS's "caliphate." Analysts said Idlib city could be the emirate's capital.

In his message, Jolani promised Idlib's residents that they would be treated well, and called for the creation of a "supervisory council" from various factions "to answer the needs of the people."

He said the authority of "jihadists and (local rulers) emirs does not come from scaring the people, but in protecting them, defeating their oppressor and defending the weak."

The Al-Nusra chief also lambasted those seeking Western support, saying it was impossible to achieve victory in Syria with the help of "criminal killers or Western agents who stab us in the back to satisfy the Americans."

"This victory has proven to everyone that trying to achieve victory through the West or regional countries is a mirage," he said.

Nusra has emerged as the most powerful jihadist group in northwest Syria after it rose to prominence in 2012.

More than 215,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began, and half the country's population has been displaced.