Skip to main content

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham plots its next move in northern Syria

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is consolidating its influence in northern Syria, mainly in Idlib, and trying to position itself as a de facto interlocutor in political agreements reshaping the country.
A picture taken on March 22, 2017 near the town of Maardes in the countryside of the central Syrian province of Hama, shows an armoured vehicle carrying rebel fighters, and bearing the flag of the Tahrir al-Sham rebel alliance. / AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour        (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

The takeover July 23 of the northern Syrian city of Idlib and several other nearby regions by former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) exposes the northern governorate to possible military operations by both Russia and the international community. The organization, which recently cracked down on its rival Ahrar al-Sham, will have to maintain a careful balancing act in northern Syria, as more radical moves could pressure the group’s internal cohesion, trigger a popular backlash and pit it against the international community, which considers it a terrorist organization. Yet the group’s aggressive behavior reflects the organization’s priority to expand its territory and consolidate its power, which would make it a de facto interlocutor in the cease-fire deals ongoing in Syria.

A string of de-escalation zones have been created in Syria with the implementation of cease-fire deals between rebels and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — the latest enforced Aug. 3 in Homs. The plan envisions a similar deal for the region of Idlib in northern Syria. However, the recent takeover by HTS of the region may expose the governorate to possible retaliation — if not by Russia, by the international community.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.