Idlib prepares for war between factions and Jabhat al-Nusra

Local groups in Idlib are starting to get rid of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, encouraged by international stands against the two organizations.

al-monitor People walk past damaged buildings in the Idlib countryside, July 27, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Nour Kelze.

Topics covered

syria, jihadists, jabhat al-nusra, islamist, idlib

Aug 20, 2014

The situation in Syria's Idlib countryside is heading toward clashes between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Syria Revolutionaries Front. Although Jabhat al-Nusra managed last July to establish several Sharia courts in different regions, the UN Security Council’s resolution to impose constraints on its financing and armament might result in isolating Jabhat al-Nusra from its surroundings and encouraging some factions to fight it, benefiting from the UN cover.

The Syria Revolutionaries Front, led by Jamal Maarouf, issued a strongly worded statement two days ago, threatening Jabhat al-Nusra with war if it doesn’t withdraw its men from Jabal al-Zawiya regions. The front also promised Jabhat al-Nusra a fate similar to that of the Islamic State (IS), which withdrew its men from the region around eight months ago, at the onset of the battles between the jihadist factions.

The statement also accused Jabhat al-Nusra of leaving the battle fronts empty for the Syrian regime in Aleppo, Murak and Wadi Deif and of being preoccupied with controlling the border with Turkey.

The statement read: “You left Aleppo and handed Deir ez-Zor to IS, then you went to Darkush, Salqin, Harem and Azmarin and deployed yourselves on the Turkish-Syrian border,” instead of fulfilling the call to counter corruption and corrupters by heading to Fawaa, Kafriya, Nubl and Zahraa (besieged towns).

The Syria Revolutionaries Front issued the statement because of its fear that Jabhat al-Nusra’s reinforcements and men in some villages of Jabal al-Zawiya, like Kanfasra, might pave the way for a large-scale invasion aiming at tightening Jabhat al-Nusra’s grip on the region and expelling Maarouf’s men. This is what happened a month ago when the movement expelled Maarouf’s men from Harem, Salqin, Darkush and Azmarin.

The Syria Revolutionaries Front is also pooling its members near Atma and Bab al-Hawa because it believes that Bab al-Hawa border crossing is one of the targets that Jabhat al-Nusra will not give up since it is a strategic supply line. Moreover, it is a major source of money due to the fees and annuities imposed on people and products that pass through it.

After its defeat in the eastern region and the withdrawal of its leaders and members from all their strongholds in Deir ez-Zor, Jabhat al-Nusra had to change its politics and follow a new one, under the headline “enforcing Islamic Sharia.” This led to a clash with several armed factions in different Syrian regions.

In Daraa, Jabhat al-Nusra arrested the leader of the Free Army’s Military Council, Col. Ahmad al-Nehmeh, then arrested the leader of al-Haramain Brigades, Sharif al-Safouri. In Hama, Jabhat al-Nusra arrested the leader of Abi al-Alamain Brigades, which is affiliated with the military council, following a dispute between them over a weapons shipment. In Idlib, the movement waged bloody wars against Ziaab al-Ghab Brigades and Ahrar al-Jabal al-Wistani Brigades. Meanwhile, the movement clashed with Qabdat al-Shamal Brigades in Aleppo, which indicates that most armed factions consider themselves harmed by Jabhat al-Nusra’s new politics and do not mind resorting to arms to stand in its way.

Jabhat al-Nusra’s leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani had expressed in a recording leaked during Ramadan his intention to establish an Islamic emirate. The official spokesman for Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Firas al-Souri, later issued a clarification, stating, “What is meant is to apply the Islamic Sharia rather than establish an emirate in the sense of a state and rule.” In light of this, the front established several branches for Dar al-Qadaa in different regions, in Idlib, Homs and Hama countrysides, and recently in Latakia countryside to apply God’s Sharia based on the understanding of Jabhat al-Nusra’s sheikhs. Several images and video recordings were posted, showing Jabhat al-Nusra judges accepting the remorse pleas of some militants who were accused of corruption or trade of illicit substances.

These changes in the relationship between Jabhat al-Nusra and factions that were once allies happened at a time of increasing international efforts to clamp down on terrorism. These efforts culminated in the UN Security Council’s resolution last Friday [Aug. 15] to stop the funding and armament of Jabhat al-Nusra and IS.

The UN resolution would lift the regional and international cover off both organizations and forbid any state from offering direct or indirect assistance to either, under risk of facing several punitive measures. Therefore, it is likely that some factions will use this resolution as a cover to act against Jabhat al-Nusra in an attempt to get more funding and support, under the pretext of countering terrorism. They might even attempt to divide Jabhat al-Nusra’s wealth among them while the movement still stands. This is to say that the hotspots of Jabhat al-Nusra will witness new battles that might be bloodier this time, because many local and regional parties will be ready to offer support and aid to wash their hands of the accusation of backing a globally condemned terrorist organization.

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