Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra says it is ending al-Qaeda ties

Leader of group deemed ‘terrorist’ by Isis appears in video to announce new name

Al-Qaeda's powerful Syrian branch, Jabhat al-Nusra, has announced it is ending its relationship with the global jihadist network founded by Osama bin Laden, to remove what it said was a pretext used by world powers to attack Syrians.

The announcement came as Russia and President Bashar al-Assad's government declared a "humanitarian operation" in the besieged rebel-held sector of Aleppo, opening "safe corridors" so people can flee Syria's most important opposition stronghold.

Washington said that it appeared to be an attempt to depopulate the city and make fighters surrender. The opposition called it a euphemism for forced displacement.

In the first known video statement ever to show his face, Mohamad al-Golani, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, announced that the group would re-form under a new name, with "no ties with any foreign party".

The move was being made “to remove the excuse used by the international community to bombard and displace Muslims in the Levant: that they are targeting the Nusra Front which is associated with al-Qaeda,” he said. The group would now be called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

Mr Assad and his Russian allies are unlikely to accept the rebranding as a reason to halt military operations.