HTS (Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham) militants have been pictured stamping on the Syrian Revolutionary flag, used by rebels against Assad, as the group makes advances in Idlib Province. But its hopes of securing more territory may prove to be premature and even impossible. The main opposition is coming from groups of Syrian civilians.
The city of Saraqib was seized recently after clashes between Ahrar al-Sham and HTS, and even more bitter clashes between HTS and civilians. HTS also managed to recapture several other towns previously lost in Idlib. These included Barabo, Tal Hawash, al-Hamirat, Tarmala, Sahab, and al-Toba.
Once the news of the HTS takeover of Saraqib spread, residents took to the streets on 19 July demanding that the terror group leave. Local people had just been exercising their right to vote in local elections – a right they have been fighting for years to secure. Understandably, they were in no mood to relinquish their recently gained democratic rights, which HTS were trying to rob them of.
Witnesses said the protestors were shouting anti-HTS slogans:
“Saraqib is free, the HTS should leave”
HTS reacted, as it has done before, by firing shots towards these civilians. Film footage of the atrocity has emerged on local media with reports of fatalities.
Among those killed was an opposition journalist, Musab al-Ezzo. He was a well-known local media activist as well as a keen athlete and member of the local sports club. On Facebook, he was shown baring his chest to HTS in defiance but moments later they pumped him with bullets. He was photographed being led to his funeral with his body wrapped in the same Syrian rebel flag scorned by HTS.
Footage of the protests shared on social media showed Saraqib residents waving the Syrian flag that HTS militants had stamped on earlier. One old man held up a picture of a face that was half Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and half Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the leader of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, now absorbed into HTS.
A day after the killing of Musab al-Ezzo, furious demonstrators massed at the Shari’a court which HTS had turned into its headquarters in Saraqib. The terrorists were forced to leave faced by the weight of numbers. However, this was preceded by more firing at the crowd.
The fear now among ordinary Syrians is that HTS will seek revenge for this setback. HTS has already engaged in house-to-house searches and arrests are expected. Even though HTS has claimed that it rejects the top-down authoritarian approach of Daesh, the evidence is increasingly that faced with opposition, it defaults to the same modus operandi.
Syrian civilians are in no mood to embrace another version of the Daesh experiment, and the evidence of this is in front of HTS in Idlib. If the HTS project were to continue and then collapse, which all signs are that it would, then this would severely discredit the Islamist jihadist agenda.