Following Hayy'at Tahrir al-Sham's (HTS) capture of Darat Izza, western Aleppo, locals have come out against the group's takeover of the town.
Residents of Darat Izza in northwest Aleppo Province have taken to the streets to protest the takeover of their town by the former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Chants such as “Syria is free” and “Jolani get out,” referring to the HTS leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, have rung around the town, as protesters express their anger with HTS’ offensive, threatening to remove the militant group from their area forcefully.
“This is a message we are conveying to Jolani and his men. We say to him, O Jolani, this is the land of the free. You shall not enter it. Here we will defeat you in the areas of Ain Jara, Darat Izza, Hoor, Meshkhatil, Blinta, and Khan al-Asal,” said one of the protesters, naming various villages and towns in Idlib and Aleppo Provinces.
While protests against HTS in Darat Izza aren’t new, the latest protests have come as a response to the group’s recent capture of the town. In other towns such as Maaret al-Numan, in Idlib Province, citizens have also assembled protests against HTS’ recent activities.
Tensions against HTS culminated after their capture of strategic town of Darat Izza.
On Monday 31st of December, HTS accused Noureddine al-Zinki, a rebel group in the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) of killing 5 of its members.
This resulted in intense clashes breaking out between HTS and the NLF, leaving over 31 people dead. According to a report by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), at least 14 HTS militants and 12 NLF fighters were killed in the clashes, along with five civilians, including two children.
The report also mentioned that several NLF fighters were captured by HTS during the clashes.
Since the start of the Idlib crisis, international organisations have expressed their concern over the situation of the three million Syrians living in Idlib.
If clashes between HTS and the NLF continue, and if the SAA launches an offensive against the last rebel-held enclave, the humanitarian fallout would cause “the centuries worst crisis,” according to the UN.