Protests continue against HTS in East Ghouta

Over the weekend, people from Douma, which is located in the suburb of East Ghouta, came out in protest against the rebel group Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Citizens also reproached the recent ceasefire agreement covering East Ghouta, saying that it should be a comprehensive and not partial agreement.

Carrying banners and the revolution flag, citizens mobilised in the streets and were chanting “This is Ghouta, our Ghouta! Oh HTS, leave our revolution in peace!” Others also chanted “This revolution is ours, and this flag is ours!” referring to repeated attempts by HTS militants at taking down the revolution flag.

In recent months, tensions have increased considerably between the two rebel blocs in East Ghouta, Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman alongside HTS, who have been sheltered among the former’s ranks. In April, Jaish al-Islam attacked HTS positions, including the group’s headquarters, citing their desire to eliminate ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’, the former name of the al-Qaeda affiliated group that forms the backbone of the HTS.

The resulting conflict has paralysed parts of East Ghouta, with the flow of commercial, medical and humanitarian goods into the suburb highly restricted. The rebel power struggle is also compounding the suffering of civilians caught amidst a regime-enforced siege since early 2013. Many residents have reported a severe shortage of food in the suburb, especially during Ramadan. For those that can afford it, food has been frozen to stop it from perishing.

The conflict has also allowed regime forces to exploit the violence and push towards East Ghouta. In May, Faylaq al-Rahman fighters evacuated the Barzeh neighbourhood under an agreement with the regime, leaving Jobar as the sole area on the western axis of East Ghouta left under rebel control.

Since this time, an array of ceasefires have been agreed across the country, which were signed in the Kazakh capital Astana in May, with Turkey, Russia and Iran as the guarantors of the arrangement. Although initially encompassing East Ghouta, the ceasefire was broken on numerous occasions leading to its failing.

However, a new ceasefire was agreed upon at the beginning of July in Cairo between Jaish al-Islam and Russian representatives. This new arrangement only encompassed the Jaish al-Islam parts of East Ghouta, located in the north and east of the suburb, not including. The Faylaq al-Rahman and HTS areas, located in the southwest, have not been included due to the presence of HTS militants.

Protesters have subsequently chanted against this recent ceasefire agreement citing the need to include all areas of East Ghouta, not just Jaish al-Islam held areas, to avoid further fracturing the rebel infighting in the suburb, which according to one protestor “only serves the regime”.