The formerly al-Qaeda linked Hayy'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has recently lost its territory in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus. In Idlib, northwestern Syria, the militant group has consistently failed to achieve popular support.
The militant coalition, Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which includes the al-Qaeda linked militant group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra), is losing territory and popular support in the areas that the group controls in northern Syria.
In Idlib, northwestern Syria, the militant group has consistently failed to win the support of the local populations. Protests that have previously been organised in some towns and villages under the control of HTS have prompted the militants to fire live rounds at innocent protesters in an effort to quell discontent.
The people of Maarat al-Numan, a town south of Idlib city controlled by the coalition group the Maarat al-Numan Military Council, have been the most vocal against the presence of HTS, who have tried to infiltrate and capture the town on a number of occasions. Protesters have often directed their chants directly to Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, the leader of HTS.
“We have come out today in Maarat al-Numan to support the Syrian revolution and to tell the herds of Joulani who attempted to breach Maarat al-Numan that our people don’t want you!” Said one of the protesters at a recent demonstration against the latest attempt by HTS to capture the town.
Turkish officials reportedly recently met with members of HTS to present them with an ultimatum to either disband in Idlib, or face an assault by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and their FSA allies in the Syrian National Army (SNA). As HTS is exempt from the de-escalation deal that applies to Idlib, Turkey, whose forces are present at nine de-escalation observation posts across the province, views the presence of the militant group as a liability and security threat to the region. Furthermore, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) could use the presence of HTS as an excuse for a future military assault in the province.
In southern Damascus, HTS was forced to surrender its positions in the Yarmouk Camp at the end of April. As part of their surrender deal, which was brokered with the Russian military and the SAA, 5,000 militants and their families will be evacuated to Idlib, which is likely to incite further tensions in the province.