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Aleppo rebel groups form alliance

Syrian rebel groups, including the Islamic Front, announced their ‘total merger under one flag and united leadership’

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Rebel groups fighting in Syria’s northern Aleppo province have agreed to form an alliance called the Shamiyya Front, a group monitoring the country’s civil war said on Thursday.

A number of armed groups in the northern city of Aleppo had agreed to the alliance, including factions from the Islamic Front, which was a merger of rebel groups announced last year, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Mujahideen Army, the Noureddin al-Zinki Brigades and other groups also agreed to the unification, the Observatory added.

The groups announced a “total merger under one flag and united leadership,” the Observatory said.

The news comes after the fight for Aleppo, divided between rebels and government forces, is seen as one of the most significant last fronts for “moderate” opposition forces in the country’s north.

A lack of unity among Syria’s opposition groups has undermined the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad and made foreign powers wary of intervening in a conflict now in its fourth year.

Many of the strongest factions are hardline Islamists such as ISIS and the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, who have clashed with one another and with more secular rebel groups.

Peace talks in Moscow

In one of its latest bids to bring both Syrian opposition and government officials to the round table, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that peace talks between the two could be held in Moscow next month.

The talks are set to take place sometime after Jan. 20, ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said at a briefing.

Lukashevich said that the Syrian government could be represented by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem or other officials, but Assad himself would be unlikely to participate.

“It’s hard to exclude anything, but in this case the presidential level doesn’t fit the format of the consultative meeting,” he said.

Lukashevich said it wasn’t immediately clear if U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura would join the Moscow talks, adding that his participation couldn't be excluded.

Assad this month met with Russian delegates and gave his support to the plan.

(With Reuters and Associated Press)