Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is struggling to maintain its rule in Idlib Province. Graffiti has appeared on walls in various locations across Idlib criticising the coalition of rebel groups, as well as the group’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani.
Slogans painted on the walls included: “Joulani has sold the revolution” and “Joulani is not of us”. The group’s practising of Sharia law was even criticised with the slogan “the alleged reality of practising the Sharia has been revealed” sprawled across one wall.
The anti-HTS graffiti comes after a series of setbacks for the group in recent weeks. Over the weekend, citizens from Darat Izza protested against the HTS when the group arrested a local preacher and an administrator. Despite the HTS attempting to repress the protests, the locals revolted, eventually kicking the group of the town.
Also over the weekend, the Ibn Taymiyyah Brigades defected from the HTS, one in long line of factions that has left the group. Last month, two of the HTS’ founders, Jaish al-Ahrar and Nour al-Din al-Zinki, also left the group citing corruption and infighting. Following this, leading clerics Abdullah al-Muheysini and Musleh al-Olayani also defected, who condemned the unwillingness of the HTS to put a stop to recent fighting between themselves and Ahrar al-Sham, who were defeated after large scale clashes at the end of July.
Furthermore, the HTS’ former leader Abu Jaber al-Sheikh has resigned, with military commander and former head of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, taking the top position and replacing Abu Jaber.
Many onlookers already perceived Joulani to be the de facto leader of the group, with Abu Jaber forming the visual figurehead of the group. However, this move by Joulani has seen him propelled to the foreground in an attempt to take greater control of affairs.
Despite this, reports emerged today that Joulani was injured in an airstrike in Idlib. Although no announcement of his death has been announced, other reports say that the former Jabhat Fateh al-Sham leader is in a critical condition.