Civilians caught in the crossfire following fierce rebel infighting in Idlib

Clashes between Ahrar al-Sham and Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) have erupted in the city of Idlib and the countryside of the province.

Fighting broke out between the two groups after Ahrar al-Sham militants raised the Syrian revolution flag over Idlib. HTS militants opposed these actions and fought to remove the flag from several sites, including the group’s Sharia court in the town of Saraqib.

The prospect of conflict between the two groups has increased considerably over the past months, as Ahrar al-Sham grows ever closer to Free Syrian Army groups in the province. This potential alliance would be a significant threat to the survival of HTS in Idlib.

Although the two groups emerged as allies during the earlier years of the Syrian War, united in the aim of deposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and creating a new government based on the principles of Islamism and Sharia law, mistrust has grow between the groups.

HTS, then known as Jabhat al-Nusra, did not enjoy the support of the Syrian people while Ahrar al-Sham did. The mistrust between the two groups grew significantly due to revelations that Jabhat al-Nusra was an al-Qaeda affiliate.

Jabhat al-Nusra’s multiple attempts to rebrand itself were attempt to be distinctive from al-Qaeda and to have Syria-centric goals which would make the group more palatable to Syrians. Following a failed merger between Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, the groups have been openly hostile.

In the weeks leading up to the first clashes in Ebelin, assassinations, skirmishes and hostile rhetoric were common between the two group.

The clashes spread rapidly throughout the province of Idlib, including the towns of Hazarin, Marian and Hbeit. Heavy and medium weapons were used throughout areas in Idlib where the two groups were adjacent to one another.

On the 20th July, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the clashes between the two groups had resulted in the deaths of approximately 40 civilians and militants in a 24 hour period. Many of these civilians have appealed to the militants to neutralise their area from factional conflicts so that they are able to live without the fear of local conflict and are able to rebuild the cities damaged infrastructure and services.

The spokesman for Ahrar al-Sham, Mohammed Abu Zeid, accused the HTS of breaching the agreement of Tal Tugan. In conjunction, HTS sent some battalions to the areas of the Zaweya Mountains and targeted the headquarters of Ahrar al-Sham, which were in the town of Maarata located on the Zaweya Mountains.