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Turkish-backed faction blocks fuel en route to Idlib

The Free Syrian Army’s Third Legion is reportedly preventing fuel from reaching Idlib, which is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, after the recent fighting between the two parties.
AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images

Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib is suffering from severe fuel shortages amid reports that Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army factions are preventing fuel tankers from entering the area. 

Sources in Idlib told Al-Monitor that the FSA-affiliated Third Legion prevented diesel tankers from crossing to Afrin via Azaz and imposed fees for other vehicles.

The Third Legion has reportedly stopped tankers carrying crude oil destined for Idlib to be refined in facilities run by Watad Petroleum, an Idlib-based company affiliated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). 

The Third Legion also prevented fuel coming from its areas from reaching Idlib, causing a significant rise in fuel prices amid shortages, as citizens in the HTS-controlled areas queued at gas stations.

Hisham Esskeef, an official in the Third Legion and a resident of the northern countryside of Aleppo, told Al-Monitor, “There is no ban on fuel heading to Idlib. HTS mainly relies on fuel coming from Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa commercial crossing. Only about 10% of its imports come from our areas.”

He added, “We are well aware of the extent of the influence of HTS’ propaganda, which tries to tell civilians in Idlib that the entity depriving them of fuel is the Third Legion. HTS is only trying to cause strife between us and the civilians in Idlib, whom we treat like civilians in our own areas. It is not the FSA's way to take revenge.”

Meanwhile, Majed Abdel Rahman, an Idlib-based journalist close to HTS, told Al-Monitor, “The need for fuel for millions of Idlib residents and displaced people during the winter season is growing. However, the Third Legion is seeking to impose new taxes on the fuel trade.”

In mid-October, clashes erupted between HTS and the Third Legion in al-Bab city near Aleppo. HTS took control of the Kurdish-majority city of Afrin as well as Jinderes, both held previously by the Third Legion. But after reaching a Turkish-sponsored truce, HTS withdrew from most of the areas it seized during the clashes.  

The two parties agreed to form a unified administration to manage the areas held by the FSA factions, but the Third Legion later withdrew from the agreement. 

Abdel Rahman explained, “It seems that the drug trade is no longer profitable. The Third Legion thus wants to expand its circle of looting and exploitation of civilians, whether in its areas of control or in HTS areas. The Third Legion wants to take revenge on HTS after it could not defeat it on the battlefield. It thus resorted to punishing civilians in Idlib in order to pressure HTS into making concessions should the two negotiate again.”

Abdel Rahman continued, “The Third Legion is blackmailing HTS and this is dangerous. The factions must be dissolved. What it's doing now is going to lead the HTS to dissolve it, maybe by force.”

Amer Hassan, a civilian from Idlib, told Al-Monitor that civilians are those paying the price for the disputes between the Third Legion and HTS.

“All the factions, including HTS, are greedy and civilians are the only ones who suffer from the ban on fuel and the price increase on the black market. The HTS-affiliated Watad company took advantage of the ban on fuel in order to double prices. Even domestic gas cylinders are no longer available, despite coming not from the areas controlled by the Third Legion, but from Turkey via Bab al-Hawa. They are only doing this for money,” Hassan lamented.

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