Conflict

HTS forcefully captures key town of Atarib amidst civilian exodus

Syria

Atarib was one of the most prominent anti-HTS strongholds in the west of Aleppo Province before the recent HTS attack on the city.

Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), made up of a variety of extreme Islamist rebel groups, has recently been taking advantage of the weak position of other rebel factions and is taking over more of the Greater Idlib Region.

Atarib was known for its former civil society activism and opposition to HTS rule in the region. Once HTS entered Atarib it forced the local rebel factions to sign an agreement, which has reportedly led to the dissolution of two groups: the Rebellion Brigades of the Levant and Flags of Islam.

Supporters of local rebel factions have been evacuated to Afrin. Pro-Opposition figures have reacted negatively to the developments in Atarib and lament the rise of the HTS, deeming it to be the “death of the Syrian Revolution”.

Protests have also proliferated against the HTS in the north-west of Syria, especially in Maa’rat al-Numan, one of the main seats of anti-HTS sentiment in Idlib Province.

The Greater Idlib Region has been rife with inter-rebel conflict for months as the rebel groups are contained within a de-militarised zone separating them from the Regime’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA)-held territories.

HTS has been noted for its aggressive push to take over territories despite a severe lack of local support and legitimacy. There have been several incidents where the HTS has imposed their repressive rule on local residents, who have responded in protestation and at times have succeeded in expelling HTS.

Despite a series of defections and assassinations among HTS ranks earlier in mid-2018, the group has capitalised on weaknesses among other rebel groups. In the most recent developments, Maasaran, Ghadqah, Maarshurin, Tal Manas, Jarjanaz, Anadan, Jamiat Nur, Hraytan and Hayyan all came under HTS control through local agreements, with many local factions defecting to the HTS or expressing neutrality for fear of retribution by the group and the so-called Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), to which it is affiliated.