Turkish-backed factions cautious of jihadi group in north Syria

Tensions between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which controls Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, and Turkish-backed Syrian factions are escalating as soon as once more. The Azm Operations Room, which brings collectively plenty of Turkish-backed Free Syrian Military factions, accuses HTS of planning to enter FSA-held areas in north Syria. 

Most not too long ago, Sheikh Ahmed al-Helwi, a member of the physique’s Grievance Response Committee, launched an audio message by which he criticized the chief of the FSA-affiliated Suleiman Shah Brigade for corruption-related points.

Helwi additionally accused HTS of supporting the Suleiman Shah Brigade to infiltrate FSA-held areas. 

HTS chief Abu Maria al-Qahtani responded to the audio recording, saying on Telegram Dec. 31 earlier than his account was eliminated on Jan. 4 that Helwi attacked the Suleiman Shah Brigade and its chief Mohammed Jassem over their ties to HTS and never due to corruption, as he claimed.

Qahtani burdened that HTS has relations with all of the factions, and threatened HTS’ opponents, saying, “Sooner or later HTS shall be all over the place, and all areas shall be unified as one.” 

Qahtani’s threats raised the issues of FSA factions that HTS could also be planning to combat them and take management of their areas.

The information comes amid tensions between the Suleiman Shah Brigade and the Azm Operations Room, which accuses the brigade of corruption. The Azm Operations Room shaped the Grievance Response Committee to analyze with a number of the leaders of Suleiman Shah Brigade. 

A supply affiliated with the FSA instructed Al-Monitor on situation of anonymity that there are actual fears amongst some leaders of the FSA factions that HTS will penetrate their areas of management, particularly in Afrin, Azaz and al-Bab, via teams and factions that don’t publicly declare their affiliation with HTS.

FSA chief Cpt. Salem al-Mohammed, who resides within the northern countryside of Aleppo, instructed Al-Monitor, “The factions oppose any transfer by HTS that will goal the areas underneath their management. The FSA has been warned in opposition to any makes an attempt at rapprochement by HTS. We, as FSA factions, can’t kind a united [opposition] entrance with HTS as a result of it’s categorized as a terrorist group, and such transfer will mirror badly on any faction that cooperates with HTS.”

In 2018, HTS was designated by the USA as a terrorist group with the UN Safety Council together with it as a sanctioned entity linked to the Islamic State, al‑Qaeda, and related people and teams.

 “HTS desires to broaden its affect and management the factions’ areas. It’s at the moment negotiating with the factions in a bid to unify the opposition ranks. HTS is making the most of the interior disputes among the many FSA factions themselves, by supporting one in opposition to the opposite, to be able to penetrate the FSA-controlled areas,” Mohammed added.

Mohammed al-Omar, a media activist near HTS who lives within the Idlib countryside, instructed Al-Monitor, “HTS didn’t announce a plan to manage the areas of the factions near Turkey. HTS has sturdy relations with a few of these factions, and its leaders exchanged visits with a few of their leaders. HTS desires to unify the opposition in north Syria and to interrupt the state of stagnation and division between the factions.”

He argued that a number of the faction leaders are involved {that a} unified entrance by all of the factions, together with HTS, would threaten their pursuits. “Some factions can be weakened and will lose their energy and affect if a unified opposition front is shaped. This is the reason they’re hindering efforts on this respect.”

Omar added, “HTS has one management and has one decision-making authority, whereas the FSA factions have dozens of leaders. They’re fragmented, and their choice is just not of their palms, however within the palms of Turkey, which had beforehand steered handing over the safety of Afrin to HTS. HTS, nonetheless, refused the supply, saying it both will get full management over all ranges, most notably the judicial stage, or it doesn’t need security control over Afrin. No social gathering representing the Syrian Nationwide Military was current when the supply was made.”

Al-Monitor was unable to independently confirm this data.

Raed al-Hamid, an Erbil-based knowledgeable on armed teams, instructed Al-Monitor, “HTS doesn’t appear ready to launch assaults or have interaction in fight with factions allied with Turkey. For its half, Turkey can’t have interaction in direct confrontation with HTS or mobilize the Syrian Nationwide Military to combat it, since Turkey views it as probably the most disciplined army entity that may be relied upon sooner or later, whether or not in taking on the FSA-held areas or in any attainable political settlement by which HTS have to be a celebration.”

Hamid additional argued that HTS chief Abu Mohammed al-Golani doesn’t appear to be ready to take management of the areas underneath FSA management. “It’s because HTS’ curiosity in army and fight coaching has waned because the group has been primarily specializing in managing the areas underneath its management to realize monetary positive factors via the crossings. Furthermore, senior HTS leaders defected from the group’s Salafi present near al-Qaeda, which has been an important supply of energy for HTS.”

Hamid mentioned HTS is strengthening its authority and imposing a fait accompli in its areas of management by specializing in the safety stage and stopping operations by the Islamic State cells. “HTS can also be specializing in growing monetary and financial capabilities by granting traders and enterprise entrepreneurs particular privileges and attempting to hyperlink their pursuits to it and to Golani personally. Additionally, HTS has reorganized its ranks and expelled leaders who are usually not loyal to Golani. It changed them with different leaders and cadres, together with Sharia students, media figures, economists and administrative, well being and academic cadres.”

Golani had beforehand threatened the FSA factions that HTS would enter their areas. The threats got here throughout a gathering with displaced civilians from a number of areas of Aleppo in August 2021. “The individuals within the Euphrates Protect and Olive Department areas, northeast of Aleppo, managed by the opposition [Syria National Army] are demanding HTS to enter their areas,” Golani mentioned on the assembly.

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