HTS was forced to retreat from the town of Murak in northern Hama, which served as a major commercial crossing for the group.
HTS was forced yesterday to retreat from Murak town near the administrative border of Idlib province in northern Hamah, where heavy clashes are ongoing between HTS and Noureddine Zenki being backed by Ahrar Al Sham and Suqour Al Sham. The town was of strategic importance to HTS because it consists of the main commercial crossing between Assad-held areas and the factions controlled territory in the countryside of Idlib. HTS used to rank in in huge amounts of money due to its control and dominance over the business activities at the crossing.
HTS withdrawal from Murak still does not mean that civilians are now free from the economic dominance burdening their living conditions because it has not been confirmed yet if Ahrar Al Sham will hand over the administration of the crossing to any civil administration or it will compete with Jaysh Al Izaa in northern Hamah on how much each can rank in from it.
Civilians in Murak held a protest immediately after the withdrawal of HTS from the town, delivering the message that they do not want their town and the commercial crossing to be targets of the ongoing fighting between the military factions. They also urged the latter to settle their disputes away from densely-populated areas.
Murak’s commercial crossing is located inside the town and on Damascus/Aleppo highway. It was opened on 12 November 2017 following an agreement between HTS and Assad’s forces on entry of goods, fuel and food items, as well as Turkish goods, into regime-held areas and vice versa. After the opening of the crossing, HTS allowed the return of around 150 families to their homes in the town in order to cover up its business activities with the Assad regime under the pretense that the opening of the crossing will halt air raids against the town. However, Murak has been targeted by airstrikes and artillery shelling since that crossing was opened, which sparked many civilian protests against HTS for not shutting it down in response to regime indiscriminate airstrikes and artillery bombardment.
HTS was able to earn huge amounts of money because of its administration of the crossing. For example, the price of a gas canister was ranging from 8000 to 9000 SYP and a barrel of fuel oil reached 210 USD. This is besides the enormous taxes which were imposed on goods being imported and exported from the crossing.
Concerning the trade crossing which are controlled by the factions, there are Qalaat Al Maddyaq crossing that is controlled by Ahrar Al Sham, which is used by civilians in modern Syria to cross into Assad-held areas and vice versa and also by merchants bringing vegetables. In addition, people used to use the road to import fuel supplies and food items from regime held areas, and it was a good source of income for Ahrar Al Sham. But, after the opening of Murak crossing, Qalaat Madyaq one has been restricted to civilians and combatants when there are agreements between the factions and the regime.