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Factional Fighting for “Interests” Ignites Idlib

The city of Idlib – December 2017 (Enab Baladi)

The city of Idlib – December 2017 (Enab Baladi)

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In Idlib governorate confrontations are gradually increasing and covering larger areas, between “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS) on the one hand and “Ahrar al-Sham” and “Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement,” who have recently formed the “Syrian Liberation Front,” on the other hand.

In this regard, accusing the two sides, activists believe that the fighting is directly related to the interests of the factions, each of which seeks to extend and enhance its hegemony, at the disadvantage of “Tahrir al-Sham,” who became stronger after confrontations with “Ahrar al-Sham” towards the end of the last year, which has been highlighted in the statements of the former official cleric in “Ahrar al-Sham,” “Abu Mohammad al-Sadek,”who, after a meeting with “Tahrir al-Sham,”  pointed out to a race to secure, take over, the Northern Rural Aleppo-Idlib road, which might be opened due to the Turkey backed battles in Afrin.

Tension took hold of the above-mentioned factions, against the background of “Abu Ayman al-Masri’s” death, an official cleric in “Tahrir al-Sham” and pointing the finger of blame at “al-Zenki Movement.” However, the latter denied the accusation and the idea that “al-Masri” was personally targeted.

To February 24, the “Syrian Liberation Front” spread its control over more than 16 towns and villages and progressed at the Idlib-Bab al-Hawa Highway, after it succeeded in controling the towns of Maarrat Misrin, Ram Hamdan, Hizano, Armanaz and Killi, at the length of the Highway, which arrives at the Turkish borders.

The confrontations witnessed by Idlib and the western countryside of Aleppo, came after eight months, similar in the type of control tendencies, through which “Tahrir al-Sham” took over most of the governorate of Idlib and “Ahrar al-Sham” was forced to withdrew to the western countryside of Hama, to control “Bab-al-Hawa,” Idlib governorate’s economic lung.

Confrontations Slide to the Camps Area

The fighting made a shift in terms of location and resided in Idlib’s camps area, after a series of confrontations, which started on February 20, causing the death and injury of a number of civilians in the Atmeh Camp in the Northern Countryside of Idlib.

Military sources told Enab Baladi that the confrontations broke out after members of “Tahrir al-Sham” killed members of “al-Zenki,” while they evacuated a number of the factions’ members, who participated in the “Olive Branch” Operation.

The “Syrian Liberation Front” accused the members of “Tahrir al-Sham” of targeting the medical evacuation team while it transported the members injured during the battles in Afrin to the Atmeh Crossing, which led to a number of injuries.

However, “Tahrir al-Sham” shirked of responsibility; it’s affiliate news agency “Ebaa” reported that ten civilians received gunshots in Atmeh, due to “Syrian Liberation Front’s” groups failed attempt at progress from the areas of the “Euphrates Shield” towards the points under “Tahrir al-Sham” in the town.

Sofan Attacks al-Julani

According to the “Syrian Liberation Front’s” foundation statement, the integration came “to stress the Syrian revolution’s parameters and as a response to the Syrian people,” while “Tahrir al-Sham” considered that the new Front was founded to confront it.

The General Commander of the “Syrian Liberation Front,” Hassan Sofan attacked “Tahrir al-Sham” in a voice note, published on Saturday, and addressed the “Sham Legion” to participate in the military confrontations taking place in Idlib against “Tahrir al-Sham.”

Sofan addressed the factions, saying: “You, holders of honor in the factions and the knights of the legion would you leave your brothers alone to fight the criminal, who is scaring their women, especially, that we have always known you as men of religion and the keepers of the revolution,” calling on the active revolutionary and civil bodies in Idlib to demonstrate “against the alien projects which distorted the revolution and to hinder Tahrir al-Sham’s wickedness.”

Sofan also addressed Abu Mohammad al-Julani, the General Commander of “Tahrir al-Sham,” and said that “we have spared no effort to avoid this confrontation, but we were aware that it was coming due to the love of authority, we sensed in [al-Julani].”

He also said that the “’Syrian Liberation’ Front does not want to win, rather, it favored the area’s interest. What triggered us to fight was this interest and our fear of losing the liberated areas. The fighting is to defend the revolution and its remaining gains, and the people should participate in defending their revolution.”

The former official cleric in “Ahrar al-Sham,” Abu Mohammad al-Sadek, through his account on “Telegram,” on Friday, February 23, said that he met members of  “Tahrir al-Sham” during the latest confrontations, pointing out that the latter are afraid of liberating the area between the regions under al-Zenki Movement and the Euphrates Shield, which will enhance the Movement’s hegemony, after connecting the area to the northern countryside of Aleppo.”

A number of comments, from factions and other entities, came as a response to the confrontation, for the “Turkistan Islamic Party” threatened to indulge in the confrontations on the side of “Tahrir al-Sham.”

In a statement, the Party said that it will not stand and watch, any attempt at expanding the attack on “Tahrir al-Sham,” stressing that “we will not allow for losing the gains which our holy fight achieved in the Levant after all these sacrifices.”

For its part, the “Syrian Liberation Front” called on the Party “to be just and not to be lured by the wickedness of the Levant’s people, because this would only result in harming their people’s just cause and the good reputation of the Party’s members in the past period.”

It is hard to predict the future of the control map in the area, in the shadow of the involved parties’ attempt at expansion, for “Tahrir al-Sham,” since its formation in 2017, has compelled many factions to succumb to its military hegemony in Idlib governorate, while “al-Zenki,” defected from it, and “Ahrar al-Sham,” which control declined, are trying to control the area anew.

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