Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the restructured al-Qaeda branch in Syria, put out a statement today on the intra-insurgent clashes that began on 28 April in the besieged enclave of East Ghuta, the suburbs east of Damascus, between Jaysh al-Islam on one side and HTS and Faylaq al-Rahman on the other. An old al-Qaeda hand, Maysar al-Jiburi (Abu Mariya al-Qahtani), has already commented on this. Now HTS’s General Shari’a Council has released a statement “concerning the ongoing events in Eastern Ghuta”. The statement, translated by al-Maqalaat, is posted below. Continue reading
Maysar al-Jiburi (Abu Mariya al-Qahtani), on Twitter as @alghreeb, is an Iraqi and long-time operative of the Islamic State (IS), who was sent into Syria to set up IS’s secret wing, Jabhat al-Nusra, in 2011. After al-Nusra split with IS and became al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Maysar remained with al-Nusra and was its deputy until the summer of 2014, when the Deir Ezzor branch of al-Nusra that Maysar led was destroyed as IS poured resources captured in Mosul over the border. Since then, Maysar has been—with Saleh al-Hamawi, another member of the advance party that founded al-Nusra—a kind of dissident, formally expelled from al-Nusra, and more recently has set to work spreading his influence in the Turkish-occupied zone of northern Syria, notably through the Ahrar al-Sharqiya group. With the various moves to rebrand and restructure al-Qaeda in Syria under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Maysar has been drawn back into the fold to a degree.
Maysar has now released an essay, “Exposing the Backstabbers Within the Ranks,” condemning Jaysh al-Islam for its attacks on HTS in the East Ghouta area of Damascus beginning on 28 April. Intra-insurgent fighting in the besieged enclave a year ago allowed the coalition of states and militias supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime to considerably shrink the enclave and put it on the path to almost certain defeat. Maysar lays particular blame on Samir al-Kaka (Abu Abdurrahman al-Kaka; sometimes transliterated al-Kaakeh), a senior cleric of JAI, for issuing rulings licensing this conduct and compares JAI to IS. Maysar also asks, rhetorically, where the condemnations of JAI are from bodies like the Syrian Islamic Council, given how strongly they responded in January when al-Nusra attacked rebel factions as it laid the groundwork for the HTS merger. Masyar’s essay is reproduced below. Continue reading
Violence erupted between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and Ahrar al-Sham, its long-time ally and its bridge into the Syrian rebellion, beginning on 19 January. These clashes expanded to encompass the mainstream armed opposition on 23 January. Today, al-Maqalaat, a pro-JFS outlet, published a long statement explaining the fighting from JFS’s point-of-view. The salient points of the argument and other interesting elements are highlighted in bold. Continue reading
In Geneva on 9 September 2016, the United States and Russia announced an agreement to implement a ceasefire—formally a “cessation of hostilities” (CoH)—in Syria, which is intended to allow humanitarian access and restart the political process to end of the war, and then to begin jointly targeting the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, recently rebranded Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS).
There is reason to wonder if the deal will ever take effect and the lack of an enforcement mechanism against Bashar al-Assad’s regime leaves open the possibility that the pro-regime coalition will, as it did after the February ceasefire, abuse this process to their advantage.
Most dauntingly, if this process worked to the letter it will legitimate the gains of the regime’s aggression, carried out under the cover of the last ceasefire, and has the potential to weaken the insurgency and embolden the regime, strengthening radicalism on all sides, pushing a political settlement further away, and thus protracting the war. Continue reading
A website, siegewatch.org, has been set up that tracks the areas under siege in Syria. Siege Watch is a joint project of PAX, an organization that works in conflict zones to foster peace, and The Syria Institute, a non-partisan research centre directed by Valerie Szybala.
At the present time, according to Siege Watch, there are forty-six sieges operating in Syria, forty-three of them (93.5%) imposed by the Assad regime, two (4.5%) imposed by Jaysh al-Fatah, an insurgent coalition that includes Jabhat an-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria), and one (2%) by the Islamic State (IS).
Siege Watch also documents the severity of the sieges in three categories. Category one (C1) is the most severe: very little gets in even by smuggling and international aid deliveries are rare if at all; the risk of malnutrition is high. Category two (C2) sieges are porous enough for the black market and/or locals might have some access to locally-grown produce, but prices for basics are extremely high and residents are at “some risk of malnutrition/dehydration”. Category three (C3) sieges require smuggling to get food, but there is a consistent supply, even if home-grown. While risk of malnutrition is low in C3 zones, medical emergencies are likely because of attacks by besieging forces.
All six C1 sieges are imposed by the regime. Thirty category C2 sieges are operating: twenty-nine by the regime and one by IS. The regime is also operating eight C3 sieges and Jaysh al-Fatah is operating two C3 sieges. Continue reading
This morning, Russia ostensibly agreed to help the U.S. impose a ceasefire in Syria within a week—on the way to a negotiated settlement. This could not work right now, even if Russia intended it to. But Russia does not. Russia’s role since intervening in Syria in late September 2015 has been to bolster the regime of Bashar al-Assad and a primary tactic in that overarching strategic aim has been the attempt to destroy all opposition to Assad that the international community could possibly deal with, and to create a binary situation where there is only the regime and jihadi-Salafist terrorists, primarily the Islamic State (IS), and secondarily—in areas where they do not threaten key regime interests—Jabhat an-Nusra (al-Qaeda). Moscow will eventually turn on IS, but in the short-term Russia has engaged in indirect coordination with IS to weaken the rebels and push them out of key strategic areas, notably in eastern Aleppo where Russia bombed rebels out of the way who had been holding IS out for years. On Tuesday, Foreign Policy reported on another aspect of this Russia-IS collaboration that aims to empower the takfiris in the short-term as part of the long-term plan, also supported by Iran, to secure the Assad regime in power. Continue reading
Published at NOW Lebanon.
So the Syrian opposition can unite. Foreign powers have been the major cause of rebel discord. Previous rebel unity initiatives like the Joint Command were pulled apart by the competition between the insurgency’s sponsors—Saudi Arabia and Qatar primarily—and the last rebel umbrella group, the Supreme Military Council, which was identified with Western power, collapsed after President Barack Obama decided not to punish Bashar al-Assad for the massive chemical weapons attack on the population of Ghouta. But under Saudi auspices, an opposition “team” was announced on December 10 after a three-day conference in Riyadh, which includes the political and military opposition and groups with varying ideologies and patrons. This is an achievement. Unfortunately, this team’s task is an impossible one: intended to partake in the Vienna process begun in October, ostensibly to negotiate an end to the war, Syria is not, at present, in a condition where a political agreement can be made and implemented, not least because the Assad regime and its supporters in Iran and Russia have doubled down, and the opposition continues to receive insufficient support to pressure the regime enough to force an agreement. Continue reading