Is Jabhat al-Nusra behind Ghouta demonstrations?

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Article Summary
Eastern Ghouta has been recently witnessing popular demonstrations against the armed factions, raising questions about Jabhat al-Nusra’s involvement.

Syrian citizens who live in areas controlled by armed factions have several reasons to demonstrate against the factions’ practices, which do not conform with the habits and customs of the Syrian people. Such demonstrations have been happening almost daily. But a new phenomenon has emerged recently. Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations have become weapons used by faction leaders against each other as long as the conditions do not allow for direct fighting.

The citizens in eastern Ghouta in Damascus have been demonstrating against Jaish al-Islam and the Unified [Military] Command, demanding an improved livelihood and the release of citizens from “repentance” detention centers, which are teeming with hundreds of people. The gunmen have monopolized the food warehouses for themselves. Prices have risen to beyond what most people can afford, resulting in extreme poverty.

Making matters worse, Jaish al-Islam leader Zahran Alloush and his entourage are controlling their areas in Ghouta with an iron fist, using all sorts of repression and abuse tactics — whether against the people or against the factions that disobey them — as happened with Jaish al-Umma several months ago. Prisons have been filled with detainees, who are being tortured regardless of whether they are fighters, civilians or media activists.

This situation drove the people of Ghouta to demonstrate against Alloush and to demand their basic right of a decent livelihood. The demonstrators even tried to break into the food warehouses in Douma, braving the shots fired by heavily armed warehouse guards.

Demonstrations recently occurred to demand better livelihood conditions and the release of detainees in some Ghouta towns such as Misraba and Arbin; still, their timing suggested that certain parties incited the people to demonstrate in order to score points against other factions in Ghouta.

Sources inside Ghouta assert that Jabhat al-Nusra is the party inciting the citizens to demonstrate. Some witnesses said that al-Nusra members guided some demonstrations toward acting in ways that serve Jabhat al-Nusra’s goals. In one event, the demonstrators broke into the home of Rahman Corps leader Abdel Nasser Shamir, aka Abu Nasr. They detained him in a Sharia court building for several hours, where he was beaten and insulted.

The overall aim is to prevent Alloush from tightening his control over Ghouta and swallowing up the remaining factions, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. Jabhat al-Nusra demanded the formation of Jabhat al-Fath in eastern Ghouta in an effort to circumvent the Unified Command, which Alloush controls with an iron fist. But Jabhat al-Nusra’s request was rejected, driving it [Jabhat al-Nusra] to use popular demands to pressure Alloush and to try to force him to coordinate with Jabhat al-Nusra.

After these events, an atmosphere of tension prevailed in Ghouta. The Unified Command proceeded to launch house raids against Jabhat al-Nusra supporters and arrested dozens of them. And there was an assassination attempt on Jaish al-Islam official Abu al-Nour Sraba. This suggests that Ghouta may see a new round of fighting, which is only a reflection of the conflict between some regional countries. It is known that Saudi Arabia has established, funded and armed Jaish al-Islam and tried to protect its strength by preventing it from fighting major battles that would weaken it. Jaish al-Islam has thus acquired the reputation as being “the king of tactical withdrawals.” Riyadh wants Alloush and his “army” to be the arm that ensures Riyadh’s dominance in the capital, Damascus, in the event the Syrian regime falls.

In contrast, the Qatari-Turkish axis is seeking to retain tools that it can use around Damascus to disrupt the Saudi plan and ensure its share when the time of sharing the spoils comes. The Qatari-Turkish axis is doing that through Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, which in recent weeks received “pledges of allegiances” from some factions in Ghouta despite the decision by the “unified judiciary” suspending them [Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham] from working in Ghouta after their separation from Rahman Corps.

But as Jabhat al-Nusra works on its plans in eastern Ghouta, some parties are working against Jabhat al-Nusra in the Idlib countryside, where there have been protests demanding Jabhat al-Nusra’s departure.

The most important of these demonstrations was in the city of Salqin, which came under fire by Jabhat al-Nusra gunmen, killing and wounding several demonstrators. The shooting was documented in videos posted on the Internet. The tension in the city was raised to the maximum as the inhabitants gave Jabhat al-Nusra 24 hours — ending today [July 1] — for Jabhat al-Nusra to vacate its headquarters in the city and remove all its elements, or the inhabitants will resort to force.

The Salqin coordinating committee said in a statement published yesterday [June 30] that ever since Jabhat al-Nusra took control of the city it has been refusing the inhabitants’ demands, such as “forming a unified Sharia court, administering the city in coordination with other rebel forces and pursuing reconciliation with Jabhat Thuwar Suria elements who have escaped to Turkey.”

News has spread that Jabhat al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Joulani issued a decision several months ago not to prosecute Jabhat Thuwar Suria elements if they return from Turkey to their homes. But the decision has not been implemented, raising questions among the inhabitants on whether Joulani is not being obeyed by his own people or the matter is merely a ploy.

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Found in: syrian civil war, jaish al-islam, jabhat al-nusra, ghouta, food security, food prices, business, bashar al-assad
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