Human Rights

Widespread Protests Against HTS in Idlib Amidst Internal Schism


Protests took place earlier this week in Idlib against hard-line Opposition group Hayy'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), amidst internal wrangling and defeats in southern Idlib

Protests took place earlier this week in the towns of Saraqib, Maarat al-Numan and Ariha in Idlib Province, which is located in northwestern Syria.

The protests shouted chants against the Syrian Regime and its ongoing offensive into the province. However, protesters were also vocal against Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a hard-line Opposition group, which controls much of what remains of Opposition-held Idlib.

The protesters shouted chants against the group and its leader, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, demanding that he step down and the group leave the province.

Other protests were witnessed on Friday near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, with civilians trying to pass into Turkey following the Regime’s recent advances. However, they were stopped by HTS militants who put concrete blocks in front of the border crossing to stop their passage.

Amidst these protests across towns in Idlib, a war of words broke out between the two jihadist ideologues, Abdullah al-Muhaysini and Abu Mariya al-Qahtani, about the recent defeats in Idlib and the role played by HTS.

Al-Muhaysini, who was formerly a cleric within HTS upon its formation in early 2017 before leaving the group shortly after, called on the group’s leaders, including Jolani, to hand over the reigns to other people.

In response, the HTS cleric al-Qahtani wrote a response against al-Muhaysini, calling him a “protean preacher” who must be sidelined.

The unrest against HTS forms a long-running saga with the group in Idlib. Since its formation, the group has struggled for legitimacy amidst a lack of popular support, repressive policies, arbitrary arrests, and its former ties to Jabhat al-Nusra, which was the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra rebranded to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in the summer of 2016 before later rebranding again to HTS in January 2017.

Even the HTS’ political wing, the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), has struggled for legitimacy, amidst an underlying belief that the SSG is just a puppet for HTS leaders.

What does this then mean for the HTS? Amidst a lack of support on the ground, clashes among jihadist ideologues, and losses on the battlefield, observers believe that the group’s options are limited.

Some believe that the group will be forced to dissolve, with some militants joining the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), although this is just speculation at this stage.

Others believe that if the Syrian Regime continues its advance into Idlib, the group will fall apart as it continues to haemorrhage fighters and territory.

In any case, the future for HTS looks bleak.

Image: Twitter