In the last rebel-held province of Idlib, the extremist group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), have taken advantage of the withdrawal of many National Liberation Front (NLF) affiliated groups to establish itself within the Demilitirisation Zone (DMZ).
In September, the people of Idlib breathed a sigh of relief when the planned Regime offensive came to a halt with the implementation of a demilitarisation zone (DMZ). Despite understandable scepticism with the ceasefire agreement – not least given how previous agreements ended – it was a much-needed respite for both Idlib natives and those who had fled there from elsewhere. Sadly, this peace was short lived following the eruption of fighting that was, once again, instigated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
HTS appear to have taken advantage of the withdrawal of many National Liberation Front (NLF) affiliated groups, required by the ceasefire agreement, and attempted to establish itself within the DMZ at Kafr Hamra, just north of Aleppo. The NLF objected to the HTS presence, and in the fighting that ensued two HTS militants were killed. The group used these deaths (which it referred to as “assassinations”) to launch major attacks on the NLF across the surrounding countryside. HTS was largely rebuffed, though they managed to hold Kafr Hamra before a ceasefire was brokered.
Seemingly not content with starting an unnecessary fight with those opposed to the Assad Regime, HTS militants also abducted a number of local activists, journalists and health workers. Among those abducted was journalist Jumah al-Amri and his father, whilst another activist, Abu Karam al-Halabi, was shot. It would seem that for the militants, expanding their control and silencing dissent is a higher priority than helping the Syrian people, who have already suffered so much at the hands of the Regime and ISIS.
There is a more insidious element to such clashes in the DMZ: HTS’s presence there is nothing short of a gift for Assad. The Regime has consistently used any rumour or speculation of an HTS presence to violate ceasefires and bombard Opposition-held areas. Assad’s Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moallem, is already using this to justify the “temporary” nature of the DMZ.
HTS has proclaimed itself to be the true representative of the Syrian Revolution. And yet, at every juncture, the HTS has brought fitna (infighting) to any legitimate opposition while oppressing and abusing the very Syrians who revolted against Assad. They should realise that, after eight years, the Syrian people will not fight one tyrant only to bow to another.