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U.S.-led air strikes hit al Qaeda affiliate in Syria: monitor

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[November 06, 2014]  AMMAN (Reuters) - Air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition set up to fight Islamic State targeted the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in northwest Syria overnight, an organization that tracks violence in the Syrian civil war reported on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air strikes targeted an office and a vehicle used by Nusra Front in Idlib province in northwestern Syria, where last week the al Qaeda-affiliated group routed Western-backed Syrian rebels.

The Observatory also reported the first air strikes against Ahrar al-Sham, another hardline Islamist insurgent group.

Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Observatory, said it marked the second time the Nusra Front has been hit in the U.S.-led campaign. The first was on Sept. 23 - the first day of the U.S. air strikes in Syria that are part of Washington's strategy to "degrade and destroy" Islamic State.

The United States said that attack had targeted al Qaeda veterans which it referred to as the Khorasan group.

Nusra Front last week seized control of areas of Idlib province from Western-backed rebel leader Jamal Maarouf, head of the Syria Revolutionaries' Front in northern Syria, confiscating its weapons. It also took positions from the Hazzm movement, another recipient of Arab and Western support.

It marked a big blow to the non-Islamist opponents of President Bashar al-Assad who have generally struggled against better armed and equipped Islamist groups including Nusra Front and Islamic State.

The United States is planning to expand military support to what it describes as the moderate opposition to Assad as part of its strategy against Islamic State in Syria.

Nusra Front was once seen as the strongest insurgent group in Syria but has been eclipsed this year by Islamic State, which has seized wide areas of northern and eastern Syria.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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