Idlib has been a site of fighting between different Syrian rebel groups and the city has been more or less taken over by Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Reports coming out of the area have shown Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham in a negative light as the group has caused much harm to the local civilian population.
Um Sharifa recalls how once HTS gained control of the district, she and her family attempted to escape the area by motorcycle. Nevertheless, HTS militants began to shoot at her family. Her husband pleaded with the militants to let them go since they were not fighters, but simply civilians. The HTS militants ignored his pleas and shot him dead while on his bike
Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham is said to be an amalgamation of various Islamist groups, one of which, al-Nusra Front, was affiliated to al-Qaeda. HTS is headed by Abu Jaber, the former head of Ahrar al-Sham, and who reportedly fought alongside al-Qaeda under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.
The clashes in Idlib have been taking place mainly between Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham, itself a coalition of Islamist forces, backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Ahrar al-Sham has, on occasion, also allied with the Free Syrian Army, a group formed of defectors of the Syrian regime’s army. HTS’ aim is more grandiose than that of Ahrar al-Sham. The former seeks to create a Caliphate encapsulating the Muslim world, while Ahrar al-Sham is more prepared to work within the confines of the Syrian nation-state.
Once Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham took over much of the Idlib Province in the north of Syria, its militants were pictured stamping on the Syrian Revolutionary flag, which is used by Free Syrian Army rebels against Bashar al-Assad and was also adopted recently by Ahrar al-Sham. HTS’ control over Idlib led to widespread protests among the local population. HTS militants reacted violently to the peaceful protests and caused a number of deaths among civilians. Many Syrians fear that HTS is in essence a totalitarian organisation that espouses an ideology similar to that of ISIS.