Abu Amsha’s recent move raises possibilities of integration between National Army and HTS
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
The presence of the isolated commander of the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division (al-Amashat) in the areas controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) raised many questions between the Syrians and the opposition factions, about the extent of coordination or consensus between the two parties, or even the existence of possibilities for integration, despite the hostility or disagreement located between them.
Mohammed al-Jassem (Abu Amsha) appeared in a video at the house of a tribal sheikh last April in the Atma area, north of Idlib.
Prickly relationship, old feud
Relations between the factions of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), which control the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo, and the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad in northeastern Syria, are witnessing a lack of consensus, harmony, and coordination with Tahrir al-Sham that controls Idlib governorate and part of the western countryside of Aleppo and Latakia countryside and the al-Ghab Plain northwest of Hama since the region was divided militarily and administratively in 2017.
The state of hostility began in 2014 between Tahrir al-Sham (the al-Nusra Front at the time) and several other factions when the HTS worked to extend its influence over the region, to be the only dominant and influential military body, and Idlib governorate witnessed many disputes between HTS and other Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated factions.
These disputes were followed by several tensions between the Tahrir al-Sham faction and the fighting factions in the north, which had their weight and impact in the battles against the Syrian regime and its allies, most notably the Ahrar al-Sham Movement that operates under the banner of the National Front for Liberation (NFL).
Tensions at that time witnessed mutual arrests between the two parties, which escalated into an armed conflict and fighting that led to the death and injury of many members of the two factions.
The clashes also expanded to include several areas of Idlib, including inside the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, which was under the full control of the Ahrar al-Sham Movement, only to be controlled by the HTS in July 2017.
Later, The factions opposed to the HTS formed the Syrian National Army in October 2019 in the southern Turkish city of Şanlıurfa.
The SNA was formed by a group of military leaders in the Syrian opposition, led by Salim Idris, the Minister of Defense in the opposition’s Syrian Interim Government (SIG) and Chief of Staff at the time.
Enab Baladi monitored the presence of many platforms on social media and local networks close to the two military entities in both regions, whose mission is to attack the other faction and bring many accusations against each other.
The circulated accusations included treason, the secret normalization of dealings with the Syrian regime, handing over “liberated” areas, and subordination to the international community.
Also, both parties accused each other of enhancing divisions in the ranks of the revolution and facilitating the smuggling operations through the crossings with the areas of the regime and the Kurdish-led forces.
The hostility and tension in relations were evident in a speech delivered by Abu Amsha in September 2019, in which he spoke of his hostility to some Kurdish parties and the Syrian regime. Abu Amsha described the HTS general commander Abu Mohammad al-Jolani at the time as “the dog of Air Force Intelligence.”
The bad relations between the two parties during these years did not prevent the release of some leaks or statements transmitted by some of the leaders of the factions on both sides, which talked about the existence of mutual visits and the possibility of achieving integration and warding off the division.
Enab Baladi had obtained information from members of Tahrir al-Sham stating that leaders of the first rank in the faction had visited and held meetings in the countryside of Aleppo with leaders of military factions affiliated with the National Army, with the aim of rapprochement and coordination with the HTS. This was confirmed by the visit of the rebel commander Jihad Sheikh (known as Abu Ahmed Zakour) to the town of Azaz in the countryside of Aleppo, where he met senior commanders and notables from the region in July 2021.
In September 2021, Abu Amsha expressed his willingness to reach an understanding with Tahrir al-Sham, denying the existence of any problems or relations with the faction.
The controversial leader explained that he does not deny the work of Tahrir al-Sham in the fight against the regime and said, “they are the sons of this country, who have repelled the regime’s attacks a lot, and we are ready to reach an understanding with them, and we support the complete integration of the opposition areas,” adding that HTS has “changed for the better.”
Comparisons between the areas under the control of the National Army and the areas of Tahrir al-Sham have not been absent by al-Jolani on several occasions nor from the HTS news accounts or those close to it, which is keen to show the areas of Tahrir al-Sham free from chaos and security problems.
One of the accounts close to Tahrir al-Sham published an audio leak of al-Jolani, in which he talked about the state of “chaos and the security, social, and political risks” in which the National Army areas are flooding and his meeting with several leaders and factions in the National Army areas and calls to unite ranks.
The leader of Tahrir al-Sham expressed his readiness to unify the ranks, achieve full integration, end the state of factionalism, and generalize the Tahrir al-Sham’s control model over Idlib in the areas controlled by the National Army.
Abu Amsha’s acts disturb SNA
The appearance of Abu Amsha, who is far from being held accountable after being convicted of numerous violations in the countryside of Aleppo, and who was recently appointed with the Revolutionaries for Liberation faction affiliated with the Syrian National Army, exacerbated the rift between several factions in the SNA’s ranks.
After a tripartite committee convicted Abu Amsha of violations and issued decisions, most notably his dismissal from his position, banning him from taking up future “revolutionary” positions, and exile outside the Olive Branch areas (Afrin and its countryside), Abu Amsha assumed the position of a member of the Revolutionaries for Liberation faction, which caused tension between the latter and The Unified Command Room (Azm), which was in charge of implementing the committee’s decisions.
A leader in the National Army who asked not to be named explained to Enab Baladi the causes of tension between Azm and the Revolutionaries faction by the failure to hold the perpetrators of violations in the “al-Amashat” division accountable. This was evident when Abu Amsha took a position in the Revolutionaries for Liberation faction.
The leader added that some economic factors escalated the dispute, ruling out any merger between Abu Amsha and Tahrir al-Sham, and in the event that it occurs, the gap between the components of the National Army will increase.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, the military expert Brigadier General Abdullah al-Assaad suggested the possibility of a rapprochement between Abu Amsha and Tahrir al-Sham, denying at the same time the possibility of a complete merger.
The reason for this is that many fighters in Abu Amsha’s faction or the National Army do not agree ideologically with Tahrir al-Sham and vice versa.
According to al-Assaad, there will be no consensus or merger, as the matter is no more than a matter of alliances, far from the idea of a complete merger or a single military body that includes both parties.
The military analyst pointed to the possibility of Abu Amsha strengthening his military position after he was in the position of accusation by placing his hand in the hands of Tahrir al-Sham to reduce the chances of his trial and isolation.
The researcher in jihadist groups, Abbas Sharifa, does not believe, in an interview with Enab Baladi, that Abu Amsha’s recent visit comes within the framework of the search for integration, and it is likely that there will be coordination, and this is a natural thing due to the presence of a military force of the National Army factions in the Turkish military bases in the Idlib region.
Some factions affiliated with the National Front for Liberation of the National Army are also active in the HTS-areas and work in coordination and in line with the latter’s policy.
Sharifa believes that there is a tendency among the factions of the National Army and Tahrir al-Sham to open channels of cooperation and coordination, which can develop from the military side to the security and economic side.
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