Fri 17 Aug 2018

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Turkey Realigns Idlib’s Factions Protecting them against Assad’s Offensive

“Jaysh al-Nasr” (Army of Victory) troops in a training camp, northern rural Hama – July 2018 (Enab Baladi)

“Jaysh al-Nasr” (Army of Victory) troops in a training camp, northern rural Hama – July 2018 (Enab Baladi)

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Idlib governorate has arrived at a new military hierarchy after the unification of all the military factions, performing within its borders, in a new military body, called the “National Front for Liberation.” The new body is mainly supported by Turkey, which attempts to spare the area any potential assault on the part of the Russia-backed Assad’s forces, being the only party that could be counted on to design the areas destiny.     

The announcement of the formation of the “National Front for Liberation” corresponded to a sensitive point in time, imposed by Bashar al-Assad’s, head of the Syrian regime, latest threats that Idlib is the next target for his forces, which gained a sense of military comfort after they had entire control over Southern Syria, the two governorates of Daraa and Quneitra. The merger also came in sync with the tenth session of the “Astana” talks, which though had not been oblivious to Idlib’s fate did not present its recommendations about the area clearly and accurately.

Russia’s latest statements concerning Idlib might complete the buzzle of its future, as it linked sparing the governorate a military offensive with the “moderate” opposition factions and the Turks.

“We called on the moderate opposition for a greater cooperation with the Turkish partners as to solve the problem of (Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham),” said Alexander Lavrentiev, the head of the Russian delegation to “Astana.”

He added: “this is not to keep the threats away from the Russian militants in the Khmeimim Air Base alone but also to secure the Syrian governmental forces deployed at the confrontations line.”

 

A Mixture of the “Free Army” and the Islamic Factions

The “National Front for Liberation” has incubated, in a rare operation in Syria, a mixture of the “Free Army” and Islamic factions, which adopted their own political and military vision since they were first formed.

The new body consists of the “Syrian Liberation Front,” that is formed of “Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya” and “Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement,” “Suqour al-Sham Brigades,” “Jaysh al-Ahrar,” “Tajamu Dimashq,” the “National Front for Liberation,” which have been lately formed with the unification of the “Free Army” factions.

In the foundation statement, the factions declared that the merger is a nuclear to the “futuristic army of the revolution,” and endorsed launching a national conference that is capable of bringing together all the Syrian revolutionary constituents.

The formation of the unified front followed the meeting of the factions’ leaders in the Turkish capital Ankara, prior to “Astana10.” Sources, who attended the meeting, told Enab Baladi, that Turkey has imposed a massive pressure on the factions to merge, in a step to organize the military action in Idlib and to eliminate “terrorism” which have been stigmatizing the governorate.

Last February, Enab Baladi managed to get hold of information saying that Turkey is already working on drawing a new military structure for Idlib’s factions, similar to what it has done in the areas of the “Euphrates Shield,” northern Aleppo.

Back then, three military sources informed Enab Baladi that the “Free Army” factions, functioning in Idlib, have received a fiscal support from Turkey as  a substitute for the American aid, in a step to form a “national army” that will possibly undertake military confrontations to put a limit to “Tahrir al-Sham’s” influence in the governorate in case it refused to dissolve itself entirely.

 

 “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” on the Discussion Table

What distinguishes the new formation is “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s” (HTS) absence, alongside “Jaysh al-Izza” (the Army of Glory), performing in the northern countryside of Hama. In the past, the first refused to be part of any military body and its representative cleric “Abu al-Fath al-Farghali” denied making concessions in Idlib, which followed talks about the establishment of a “unified body” that includes “HTS.”

Amidst the “decisive” developments which Idlib is enduring, “Tahrir al-Sham’s” destiny is yet unknown; however, it is already on the table of discussions, especially that Russia has necessitated eliminating it, being classified as a “terrorist” group and resorting to launching attacks every now and then, the last of which targeted Khmeimim Air Base.

According to information that Enab Baladi managed to get in a former time, “Tahrir al-Sham” is suffering a rift; part of it is demanding ending the international seclusion and another is calling for fighting Turkey and the factions it supports, such as the “Free Army” and “Ahrar al-Sham.”

The Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini led the current that refused internal fighting, along with the chief cleric “Abu Hareth al-Masri.”

Contrastingly, the commander-in-chief “Abu Mohammad al-Julani” and the cleric Abdulrahman Atton (Abu Abdullah al-Shami), as well as the commander of Hama sector “Abu Yousef Halfaya” insist on their opinion of the Turkish intervention and the rest of the factions in the governorate, backed by the three Egyptian clerics “Abu al-Fath al-Farghali,” “Abu Yaqthan al-Masri” and “Abu Shuayep al-Masri.”

 

Top Leaders of the “National Front for Liberation”

Commander-in-Chief Fadlallah al-Haji

Al-Haji has been assigned as a commander-in-chief for the new formation, and he is the commander-in-chief of the former “al-Sham Legion” faction, known for receiving a massive support from Turkey.

Al-Haji is a dissident colonel of Assad’s forces. In October, he was assigned the leadership of the General Staff of the “National Army,” consisting of all the “Free Army” factions that functioned in the northern countryside of Aleppo.

Born in the village of “Kafar yahmoule,” the northern countryside of Idlib, he dissented from the Syrian regime late in 2012 and joined the “Revolution Shield” brigade, as a deputy to the brigade’s commander, colonel Mustafa Abdulkarim.

Leaders of the “Free Army” told Enab Baladi that the commander-in-chief is a “scrupulous military man.” He led the Idlib Military Operations Room and was agreed upon by all the factions for his dynamism and commitment when it comes to military action. He then joined the “al-Sham Legion” and became its commander-in-chief.

“Al-Sham Legion” is known for making a secret of its leaders, and according to Enab Baladi’s information, it includes dozens of dissident officers, upon whom it depends in running its military affairs.

Detailed information about the commander-in-chief of the new formation do not exist, even his personal photos are lacking on the varied media platforms and social networking sites.

 

Principal Deputy Ahmad Sarhan (Abu Estaif)

He was born in the town of Ihsim and is 40 years old.

According to Enab Baladi’s information, Sarhan worked as a teacher prior to the Syrian revolution. Upon joining the military movement, he was a part of most of the battles against Assad’s forces in Mount Zāwiya before the declaration of the “Free Army.”

With his brothers, he then joined the “Suqour al-Sham” brigades as a battalion leader. After that he occupied the position of the commander of “Omar Brigade” for a short time until he moved to the “Shura Council” faction.

In addition to these positions, he was “Suqour al-Sham” Brigades’ official at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. Sources, close to him, told Enab Baladi that three of his brothers “martyred” in battles against Assad’s forces.

 

Second Deputy Walid al-Mushyeil (Abu Hisham)

He is from the village of Basqala, southern part of the city of Kafr Nabl.

The former lieutenant colonel dissented from the army in 2012, where he served as an artillery officer.

He fought in the lines of “Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya” as the artillery prince; he, then, joined the “al-Ahrar Army” and served as a military commander.

Lately, he abandoned “al-Ahrar Army” without information about the entity he joined.

 

Chief of Staff Inad al-Darwish (Abu al-Munther)

Born in the city of Hama, he is considered the strongest military personality within the lines of “Ahrar al-Sham” movement, according to Enab Baladi’s sources.

Prior to the merger, he was the leader of “Ahrar al-Sham’s” military wing, chief planner and engineer of the movement’s battles in Wadi Deif, Idlib and the military warehouses in Aleppo.

Sources informed Enab Baladi that al-Darwish refused the merger in the past until the formation was announced after his consent.

Al-Darwish is a descendent Lieutenant colonel, who served under the “Special Forces.” At the beginning of his military action, he was the commander of “al-Eman Brigade,” one of the formations that functioned under the former “Aharar al-Sham.”

 

Deputy Chief of Staff Mohammad Mansour

Last May, he was assigned as a chief of staff in the “National Front for Liberation,” after he served as a commander-in-chief of “Jaysh al-Nasr,” functioning in rural Hama.

Mansour was born in the area of Qalaat al-Madiq, western rural Hama. Functioning as a Major, He dissented from Assad’s forces in 2012 and joined to what was then known as the Military Council for six months.

After joining the Military Council, Mansour established the “Ahrar al-Ghab” brigade in rural Hama, where he stayed for a short time, to then move to the “Suqour al-Ghab” faction, where he became the commander following the death of the former commander lieutenant colonel Jamil Ra’doun.

The commander has participated in the majority of the battles against Assad’s forces in rural Hama and played a key role in combating Assad’s forces latest attack against the eastern countryside of Idlib, heading his faction “Jaysh al-Nasr,” formed of the merger of “Suqour al-Ghab,” “Regiment111” and other factions.

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