The HTS has closed the Ghazzawiyah and Atmeh crossings and has blocked the movement of vehicles coming towards Idlib from the Olive Branch areas.
The closure of the northern border crossings by the Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militant group has reportedly been linked to a growing threat of ISIS militants infiltrating areas within Idlib province through areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The HTS has noted that the road closures are limited to the border crossings to the north towards Afrin. The group is yet to confirm the duration of the closures.
The border closures by the HTS have been viewed as a continuation of the group’s repressive measures in the region that are aimed at reinforcing its rule by tightening its control over the territory it now controls. These measures are also considered to have a worsening effect on the humanitarian situation in the province as both traded goods and humanitarian aid are unable to reach the local population with any ease.
In response to the measures taken by the HTS against civilians and humanitarian and security service institutions, officers of the “Free Police” in the city of Anadan, north of Aleppo, have organized a protest and expressed their rejection of the HTS interventions. They also condemned the pressure exerted on them by the HTS to join the so-called “Islamic police”.
The past few weeks have seen a spread of HTS rule in Idlib province as the group has taken control of areas that were previously in opposition to the HTS, including, most prominently, Atarib, where it is reported that the “Free Police” has suspended its work due to HTS pressure.
Despite a series of defections and assassinations among HTS ranks earlier in mid-2018, the group has capitalised on weaknesses among other rebel groups. The most recent reports mention the entry of HTS into Ma’arat Nu’man, possibly the foremost anti-HTS town in Idlib Province. Those reports have not yet been fully confirmed, but they represent an ominous sign with regards to the spread of the extremist group in the province.