The hard-line group Hayy'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is the dominant force in Syria's north-western Idlib Province, has found itself squeezed in recent months amidst the ongoing the conflict against the Syrian army.
The future for Opposition group Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) remains uncertain. Amidst the ongoing fighting between the HTS and the Syrian army in the country’s north-western Idlib Province, the group is finding its position ever-more squeezed as it loses territory to Regime fighters.
Over the weekend, Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, the group’s leader, commented on the situation during a rare interview, saying that the group is currently stretched over a number of fronts in Idlib, as well as the neighbouring Aleppo.
Jolani also accused the other Opposition groups, including the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), of betrayal and negligence, despite the SNA’s presence on a number of frontlines. In response, some groups have accused the HTS of facilitating the handing over of regions to the Regime.
Jolani’s comments come amidst rumours of the group’s dissolution or rebrand, with some outlets suggesting that Turkey is attempting to fold it into the SNA, an offer that was rejected by Jolani and the HTS.
Despite this, HTS is finding itself holding limited time, space and options in Idlib, with the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, saying on Monday that he has no intention of ceasing operations. Negotiations between Russia and Turkey on Tuesday in Moscow also reportedly ended in no agreement, with neither side willing to cede its interests to the other.
But with ground rapidly diminishing, what would a rebrand for the HTS look like? The group is no stranger to rebranding, having been formed of five rebel groups in January 2017 – Nour al-Din al-Zinki, Jaish al-Sunna, Ansar al-Din, Liwa al-Haq, and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham – which have since undergone various splits down the line.
Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the largest constituent part of the HTS and the one that Jolani led, had itself rebranded back in July 2016 from Jabhat al-Nusra, then the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
While the future for HTS remains uncertain, the lives of those in the region remains under threat. The UN announced on Monday that almost 900,000 people have been displaced so far, with the number likely to rise, and lead to an even greater humanitarian crisis.