Factions rivalry mounts in Jindires over influence, proving existence
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
Calm has gradually returned to the city of Jindires, north of Aleppo, after popular anger and congestion, following the killing of four Kurdish civilians due to a verbal altercation during the Nowruz celebration in the region.
Tension in the areas controlled by the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) in the countryside of Aleppo, as a result of which Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which has military influence in Idlib, intervened, directing military convoys that accompanied the bodies of the victims after their families sought refuge in the Idlib regions, demanding the withdrawal of the factions from the cities and towns north of Aleppo.
Repeated violations appeared to the public in the SNA-controlled areas, which were soon accompanied by the HTS intervention, which had intentions to control the area, reinforced by the presence of its arms at the service and military levels.
The intervention of Tahrir al-Sham this time was with the intent and pretext of “stopping the violations and holding the perpetrators accountable,” despite the presence of the National Army and Military Police and judicial authorities in Jindires that are not administratively affiliated with Tahrir al-Sham, to show the competition between the two parties in terms of ability on controlling the security of the region, and the desire to widen the difference in power between the two de-facto powers.
“Nowruz” crime in Jindires
On the evening of March 20, two people objected to family members lighting fires to celebrate Nowruz in front of their home near newly established camps for earthquake victims.
The dispute developed into shooting at family members after they refused to extinguish the fire. Four people were killed and two injured.
Local witnesses told Enab Baladi that members of a battalion called al-Akhsham affiliated with the Ahrar al-Sharqiya factions, a unit of the National Army, shot dead the family members.
Ahrar al-Sharqiya denied that the murderers were operating under its banner.
Hours after the tragic incident, dozens of relatives of the victims drove their cars with three bodies (the fourth person was in serious condition and then died) from Jindires in the countryside of Aleppo to Atmeh in the countryside of Idlib.
They demanded the withdrawal of all factions from Jindires and handing over those responsible for the crime.
Promises of both parties
The victims’ families met with the HTS leader, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, on a street in the town of Atmeh, telling them, “This is the last day you will be attacked. You are under our protection.”
Besides al-Jolani, the victims’ family and relatives met with senior HTS commanders, such as Abu Maria al-Qahtani, Abu Ahmed Zakour, and Abdul-Rahim Atoun, who promised to arrest the perpetrators and hold them accountable.
For its part, the Ministry of Defense of the Syrian Interim Government, the political umbrella of the National Army, pledged, through a statement, to pursue those involved in the shooting of Kurdish civilians to bring the perpetrators to justice as soon as possible, and to reveal successively the circumstances of the incident to public opinion.
On the morning of March 21, the funeral prayer was held in Atmeh city for the three bodies, and the people of the region went in dozens of cars to bury them and hold the funeral in Jindires, accompanied by the HTS military forces.
Jindires witnessed a massive demonstration during the funeral, calling for the factions to leave cities and towns and for the killers to be held accountable.
The Interim Government’s Defense Minister, the commanders of its corps, and SNA soldiers participated in the burial. The minister promised to expose the perpetrators and prosecute them.
During the funeral and burial, Tahrir al-Sham forces entered Jindires and took control of the headquarters of the Military Police and most of the checkpoints inside and on the city’s outskirts.
This was also accompanied by praising the promises of al-Jolani by HTS-pro accounts, which circulated photos of him with the victims’ families and posts stating that (al-Jolani) “will not accept any grievance (committed against people).”
The military leader, Maysar bin Ali al-Jubouri (al-Harari), known as “Abu Maria al-Qahtani,” said on Telegram that “the Kurds are part of this nation, and supporting the oppressed is obligatory, and the criminals must be held accountable.”
In his post, al-Qahtani added that “People in the ‘liberated areas’ are one, and we have a legal and moral duty to triumph for the oppressed. Injustice annihilates nations and demolishes states.”
A source in the Military Police, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to make a press statement, told Enab Baladi that the HTS forces partially controlled headquarters and some military checkpoints, and “secret” and “tug-and-pull” negotiations took place with the National Army until it withdrew hours after entering.
The HTS was helped by its affiliates, who have been present in Jindires since its last intervention, following fighting in the area, according to the source.
On the evening of March 21, the Military Police department of the Interim Government in the countryside of Aleppo announced the arrest of three people involved in the killing of the four Kurdish civilians and stated that the arrest took place in cooperation with the Liberation and Construction Movement (LCM), a unit of the SNA.
Compete to control the area in terms of security
Military operations in opposition-held areas have stopped since 2020 and were limited to some responses or infiltration operations by the factions, which sought to expand their influence and hold training, enrollment, and graduation courses, with some of them continuing to commit violations, and fights broke out among them.
Firas Allawi, a political researcher, believes that the incident showed a kind of competition between the National Army and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and each of them wants to present itself as the “guarantor” of the region, especially northern Syria and that it is the “trump card” in the event of any regional or international “settlement.”
Allawi told Enab Baladi that it is a process of competition in presenting credentials for the administration of northern Syria in the event that the Syrian solution is in a fragmented way, which is managing the regions and then trying to integrate them, so these local powers are trying to prove their ability to manage the region.
Allawi said that the northern region needs a broad process of reform, whether in terms of security or administration, and controlling violations and abuses by the Interim Government, and that the National Army closes the door to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and to any other projects, and even to international intervention.
Allawi pointed out that the reform process is very difficult in light of the factions’ encroachment, their interests, and their leaders’ control over the National Army, which has become “just a banner” under which factions fall under. Each faction does what it wants without fear of being held accountable by the National Army, the Ministry of Defense, or the Military police.
Nawar Shaaban, head of the Information Unit at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, told Enab Baladi in a previous interview that the factions are focusing this year on internal control, limiting smuggling operations from regime-controlled areas, pursuing Islamic State cells, and targeting The regime’s cells that carry out bombings in the region, and unify the security structure in the SNA-controlled areas.
Shaaban, an expert in military affairs, believes that “the armed formations that stabilize the internal security situation, and secure the movement of civilians and the work of organizations, are the ones that have become of great basic effectiveness and may have a certain role in the stage of international agreements.”
Presentation of credentials
Tahrir al-Sham forces entered the Aleppo countryside several times under various pretexts, and its desire to control the region, especially Afrin and its environs, and to expand its areas of influence emerged.
HTS’ desire was accompanied by criticism of the state of “factionalism” and “weak administration” in the countryside of Aleppo.
With every incident or violation in the Aleppo countryside, a new wave of accusations begins, led by leaders of Tahrir al-Sham and its affiliated media and those close to it, stating the “failure” of the SNA factions to manage their areas of control, and the state of factionalism in the areas of Aleppo countryside, in return for promoting claims of the HTS and its political umbrella (the Syria Salvation Government) that their administration is good for the city of Idlib.
Firas Allawi, a political researcher, believes that Tahrir al-Sham has a better political approach than the National Army or the Interim Government, but the latter deals with the theory of a fait accompli, so both parties are trying to present their credentials to the Turkish guarantor, that it is the most capable of controlling the region security, military and administrative.
Allawi believes that from a security point of view, al-Jolani is more capable of controlling the area, but there are fears and a lack of acceptance of his control by the popular incubator in northern Syria, given that most of those in the north have not managed their areas according to the HTS mindset.
In June 2022, Afrin city, north of Aleppo, witnessed a demonstration of dozens of people rejecting the entry of the HTS forces and vehicles into the countryside of Aleppo.
Previous interventions, withdrawals
On February 7, al-Jolani and al-Qahtani appeared near the ruins of buildings destroyed by the earthquake in Jindires, an area that does not belong to Tahrir al-Sham nor to its political umbrella, the Salvation Government.
The media loyal to Tahrir al-Sham and its leaders focused their attention on the first response of the Salvation Government in the city.
HTS mobilized its military convoys near the Deir Ballut and al-Ghazawiya crossings, separating it from the National Army, on October 11, 2022, to enter with these forces in support of the Hamza Division (al-Hamzat), which is supported by the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division (al-Amshat) against the Third Corps.
After that, it came out through indirect Turkish intervention through other SNA factions leaving behind cells and arms in the region after five months had passed since the dispute over it.
In June 2022, Tahrir al-Sham fighters headed towards the northern Aleppo countryside following clashes between the pro-HTS Ahrar al-Sham-Eastern Sector faction (Division 32) and the Third Corps affiliated with the National Army.
The HTS entered from the internal al-Ghazawiya crossing towards the Afrin region, north of Aleppo, to the village of al-Basuta, with more than 400 vehicles, and from the Deir Ballut crossing, with more than 350 vehicles.
In both attacks, Tahrir al-Sham argued that it was necessary to “respond to oppression and stop the bloodshed,” but its military intervention resulted in the death of dozens of civilians and created a state of panic and terror.
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