Fighting breaks out between Faylaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham in East Ghouta

Rebel groups in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta continue to clash amidst a crippling siege that is causing immense suffering for the people in the area.

Yesterday, fighting broke out in Erbin between Ahrar al-Sham, who occupy the strategic western Harasta district, and Faylaq al-Rahman, who occupy most of the southwestern districts of East Ghouta.

Fighting reportedly erupted after around fifty defections from Ahrar al-Sham to Faylaq al-Rahman. Ahrar al-Sham further accused Faylaq al-Rahman of “daily harassment” against their militants, “stealing sniper rifles and weapons” and committing other “cases of abuses” against civilians.

Simultaneously, other rebel infighting has emerged with Jaish al-Islam also engaging in sporadic clashes with Faylaq al-Rahman. The group accused Faylaq al-Rahman of harbouring former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) within their ranks, an allegation that the former vehemently denies.

Clashes between Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman come despite a cessation of hostilities between the two groups late last week. The two largest rebel factions met to exchange prisoners and discuss combining forces to attack the other two more extremist groups, Ahrar al-Sham and Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham. However, this cessation soon turned sour and violence once again broke out.

Meanwhile, a de-escalation agreement had been agreed between Russia and Jaish al-Islam in Cairo at the end of July. The agreement defined the borders of the de-escalation zones and denoted the deployment locations of the monitors for the ceasefire, but did not specify exact locations covered under the ceasefire.

However, despite an initial targeting by the regime of Jaish al-Islam-held Douma, the largest city and de facto capital of East Ghouta, it is widely understood that Jaish al-Islam-held areas would not be targeted. Conversely, due to the alleged harbouring of HTS, Faylaq al-Rahman-held areas were not included in the ceasefire.

As a result, wide scale clashes continued in the southwestern districts of Ein Tarma and Jobar, which are held by Faylaq al-Rahman and are considered gateways into the rest of East Ghouta. According to activists, these districts have been shelled intensely by regime forces everyday for the past 56 days.

Despite cases of intra-rebel and rebel-regime violence, the ceasefire has allowed some aid to enter Douma, somewhat alleviating widespread shortages as a result of being besieged since 2013, which has resulted in a crippling shortage of food, fuel and aid in recent months.

Residents interviewed during Ramadan spoke of their hardship trying to muster up food for Iftar for their families. More recently, civilians have been growing mushrooms instead of rearing livestock due to their greater ease of harvesting and similar nutritional content.