Damascus’ east Ghouta continues to suffer from high tensions between its two main rebel groups: Faylaq al-Rahman (al-Rahman Legion) and Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam). Although the two groups have not battled each other openly over the past weeks, sporadic clashes and blockades continue to plague the suburb, making life even harder for residents of Douma, the regional capital held by Jaish al-Islam.
The most recent bout of infighting between Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam began after the latter group launched a campaign to purge members of Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a rebel group that has been made of a number of rebel groups including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the successor to al-Qaeda’s official Syria affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra. Jaish al-Islam reasoned that the HTS’ presence de-legitimised the rebel movement in east Ghouta and made them targets to Russian airstrikes.
Things turned complicated when Faylaq al-Rahman, suspicious of Jaish al-Islam’s motives and believing that the group may strike a bargain with Damascus, offered protection to the HTS, resulting in pitched battles across the suburb.
Through it all, civilians have taken the brunt of the fighting. Many of them have been caught in the crossfire of the feuding groups or been arrested due to allegations of spying for one group or another. Protests appealing for calm have been met with violence. Taking advantage of the infighting, the SAA has made significant gains in the region, drawing ever closer to Douma.
The siege conditions, coupled with the infighting, has drawn the outrage of many locals of Douma who have come out in protest. The protesters here have accused the HTS of poisoning the rebel relations in the suburb and called at Faylaq al-Rahman to stop protecting the HTS. The protesters are also demanding that Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman sit down to make peace, arguing that the rebels should be focusing their energies on the government of President Bashar al-Assad, not each other.
Activist leaders in the Douma protests say that they reject the extremism of al-Qaeda in all forms and that they do not support an ideology that has already done so much harm.
The fighting between Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman over the presence of the HTS in east Ghouta is representative of similar infighting taking place in rebel-held Idlib Province, particularly the town of Ma’arat Nu’man. There, the HTS fought against a number of Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions. Just like in Douma, residents of the town came out against the infighting and were met with violence.