Tensions rise between Ahrar al-Sham and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham near Turkey border

By Oliviero Reusser

On the 8th of July, a statement was posted by the official Ahrar al-Sham spokesman account on twitter.


In it he declares that currently, the Syrian revolution needs to take new and crucial steps to address the different and new dynamics of the situation in Syria. In this context, they declare that the mobilisation of fighters and other factions against the bases of Ahrar al-Sham, other Turkey-backed and Euphrates Shield-linked groups can only be seen as a step backwards, which will lead to internal fighting. According to the statement, Ahrar al-Sham has always tried to act as a mediator and conciliator between the two opposing sides. However, in a latest step, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has taken over several sites near Ahrar al-Sham bases. This coincides with reports early on the 7th of July that HTS took over several FSA Central Division positions near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, an Ahrar al-Sham controlled area. The statement also declares that thex will never fight another faction of the Syrian revolution, by they will defend their own bases with everything they have. 

According to the monitoring group JAN_Violations, an organisation tracking violations and activity of HTS in Syria, HTS has mobilised many fighters in the vicinity of the Idlib border areas. However, when they wanted to cross to the Bab al-Hawa crossing, residents of the town of Atarib, an Ahrar al-Sham stronghold, blocked off their way and prevented them from moving across towards the border crossing. It appears that HTS is still not received well within many towns and locals in greater Idlib. 

Meanwhile, Charles Lister, a Syria observer, reports that Ahrar al-Sham has mobilised many fighters itself to and near Bab al-Hawa crossing, possibly anticipating an attack in the area. This would mean that Ahrar sees the threat by HTS posted in the area as credible and is already moving to defend itself against a possible aggression. 

It appears that once again, the tensions in greater Idlib could spill over and evolve into full fledged infighting as the fears raised by a possible Turkish intervention into the area prompted HTS to act. This puts them into direct confrontation with groups and factions sponsored by Turkey and probably friendly to an intervention, namely Faylaq al-Sham, FSA Central Division among others. While Ahrar al-Sham is also a major Turkey-backed group, they often act more independent and, as written in their statement, would never attack another group first; not even HTS. 

While it remains unclear and unconfirmed just what exactly will truly happen with the rumoured Turkish intervention, the massive media campaigns leading up to it have already been enough to heighten the tensions between the armed factions in greater Idlib. So far, there have been no reports of major clashes and skirmishes; but other big factional infighting could break out in oppositon-held northern Syria at any time now.