Idlib Under HTS: A City Of Arrests, Assassinations And Misery


Once viewed by the Syrian Opposition as a place of sanctuary and freedom, the city of Idlib has turned into a place of oppression, misery and fear under the rule of Hayy'at Tahrir al-Sham.

When the Syrian Opposition took control of the city of Idlib and the surrounding province from the Syrian Government in 2015, it was viewed as a new beginning for the war which had already dragged on for years and had witnessed the emergence of ISIS. For the Opposition, Idlib was a sanctuary and a place to show how life without Assad could flourish.

What started as a cause for hope for Syria’s future and salvation from tyranny, however, quickly turned into something worse amidst infighting between different rebel groups, chief among them Jabhat al-Nusra, then-affiliate of al-Qaeda. By 2017, Jabhat al-Nusra had re-branded into Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), taking over the whole of Idlib City. Despite claiming to be the true representative of the Syrian Revolution and establishing a government by the name of the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), the HTS brought neither representation, nor salvation, nor governance. Instead, the group simply replicated the same patterns and methods of tyranny that had flourished under Assad’s rule.

Media activists, doctors and aid workers; no enemy is too far for the HTS, no Syrian off-limits in the group’s drive for power. Among the group’s most recent arrests was that of Yasser al-Saleem from Kafr Nabl – the same town where the recently-assassinated dissident, Raed Fares is from. Al-Saleem’s crime, expressing sympathy with the Druze of Suweida kidnapped by ISIS militants in a recent attack, expressing sympathy with the Kurdish people and wishing that the displaced Shia families from Foua and Kafraya would return. Clearly, expressing sympathy with all segments of Syrian society is unacceptable for the HTS.

Also arrested was Amjad al-Maleh, an activist from Madaya. His fate remains unknown. Of course, the ultimate irony here is that al-Maleh survived the siege of Madaya, one of the most brutal sieges instituted by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), only to be arrested by the HTS.

Doctors and medical workers are also in the cross-hairs of the HTS. Despite dedicating their lives to braving bombs and healing the sick and even treating HTS militants, the group has arrested them over minor political infractions or simply daring to help the group’s rival rebel groups.

Through it all, the group is in constant fighting with other rebel groups in Idlib while failing to keep its own security amidst defections and assassinations.

Ultimately, the cost is borne not by the HTS or the Syrian state but the people of Idlib and wider Syria whose only desire was freedom and safety from tyranny.