Protests have begun on the streets of Maarat al-Numan, Idlib, following the attempts of former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham or HTS (previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra) to eliminate the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham.
The protests are rejecting the aggressive acts of HTS, which are considered by the residents of Idlib not to be in the interests of achieving the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.
“The revolution is for the people and not for the factions. We will remain in the squares until Syria is liberated from all that is unjust, whether it is the Nusra Front, Bashar al-Assad, Ahrar [al-Sham] or even the 13th or 14th Brigades. People are above all,” said one protestor in Idlib.
Tensions in Idlib between the HTS and Ahrar al-Sham have simmered for months due to diverging approaches of governance based on the principles of Islamism and Sharia Law.
HTS’ approach seeks to create a Caliphate that will span the Muslim world. This has won the group little support with the Syrian people – a result that the group sought to change through multiple rebrands and the adoption of Syria-centric aims. Alternatively, Ahrar al-Sham has garnered more grassroots support from the Syrian people as they seek to create an Islamic State within the existing boundaries of the Syrian state.
In recent months, Ahrar al-Sham has adopted the flag of the Syrian revolution as their own in an attempt to develop a close working relationship with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to much consternation from the HTS.
In response to this action, which they believed posed a threat to the jihadist character of the revolution, clashes subsequently ensued between the two groups.
While protests in Idlib may suggest that Ahrar al-Sham has popular support, HTS is making significant advances in achieving its aim of eliminating their opponents and exerting total control over the province of Idlib.