Calm prevails in Saraqib after agreement reached between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham

By Oliviero Reusser

Despite high tensions in Idlib governorate in general, a period of calm started on Saturday morning, even seeing several civil figures and inhabitants taking to the streets and protesting in Saraqib town, asking for the town to be neutralized among the factions. 

In recent days, starting on Thursday, several civilians were injured during clashes between the two biggest groups in greater Idlib, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Ahrar al-Sham (Ahrar). It is unclear what exactly prompted the most recent confrontations located in the areas near the town of Saraqib. This town, aswell as a nearby village named Tell Toukan, are located near the strategic Damascus-Aleppo highway and are considered Ahrar strongholds, where they are the main force. They are however not too far away from villages considered HTS strongholds such as al-Dana and Abu al-Duhour. 

Map of areas east of Idlib city, via wikimapia

Map of areas east of Idlib city, via wikimapia

As mentioned, it is unknown what exactly triggered the most recent clashes. It is however likely that several smaller escalations and confrontations led to it, including the heightened tensions due to the perceived threat of a Turkish-led invasion in Idlib (Ahrar is a strong ally of Turkey), recent disagreements and accusations regarding the power lines and electricity infrastructure and vocal insults flung at each other by supporters and officials of the two organisations on social media. Other reported reasons include the accidental shelling of HTS positions by Ahrar troops and the arrest of group members by the armed factions. 

On Saturday morning, news emerged that calm was prevailing in the area after an agreement was reached between the two factions after setting up a Sharia committee, tasked with resolving the differences. It is unknown what exactly were the conditions discussed, but it likely included apologies, concessions and release of prisoners. In a statement published on their website and shared on social media, Ahrar al-Sham affirms their commitment to the agreement and says they are ready to defend themselves in case any more aggression happens.

While the clashes have for now stopped, it is not unlikely that further confrontations will soon flare up again in the province, as underlying problems between the two factions remain unresolved. These include the relationship to Turkey, general military and security cooperation between the groups aswell as feuds on the personal scale between commanders and arrested individuals. Sadly, even civilians keep getting caught in the crossfire, as the factions often clash inside the villages and near their bases and checkpoints there.