Locals fear that the takeover of Atarib marks the expansion of extremist groups such as the HTS in the Greater Idlib region.
The town of Atarib was taken over by Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) a week ago amid widespread criticism from non-HTS Opposition figures and media outlets. Nevertheless, the locals have yet to be given a channel through which they may express their perspectives on the matter.
“After they [HTS] entered Atarib, our young guys left this place and the situation has gone out of control. The young guys have escaped from here”, said Muhammad Hajj Bakr, a young inhabitant of Atarib.
His statement corresponds to the reports of young people either fleeing or being transported away from the town. Many of those affiliated to non-HTS rebel groups in the area moved to Afrin, where the Turkish-backed rebel groups are still in control.
With regards to the actually situation within Atarib, local residents are fearful of the present situation and of what is to come in terms of possible further military conflict and political instability:
“Everyone is seeing that HTS has controlled this area of Atarib and its outskirts and the regime’s airplanes are launching airstrikes and people are thinking that the area will become a base [for HTS]”, mentioned Jihad Mansur, also an inhabitant of the town.
Atarib was a former hotbed of anti-HTS sentiment, with local residents having come out to the streets on occasion to protest HTS rule following repressions by the extremist group.
HTS has continued over the past few days to advance into areas that have resisted its rule. It has recently taken over checkpoints around Qalaat al-Madiq and the Ghab Plains that were vacated by the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL).
The Greater Idlib Region has been rife with inter-rebel conflict for months as rebel groups remain contained within a de-militarised zone separating them from the Regime’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA)-held territories.