Rifts have emerged between members of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in anticipation for its expected battle against the Turkish army and rebel groups in the Euphrates Shield, amid rumors of negotiations to spare Idleb further bloodshed.
HTS has not confirmed claims of the talks to reach a settlement that will lead to implementing a “de-escalation” zone in Idleb without resorting to military confrontations.
Commenting on the expected battle in Idleb, a spokesman for the Al-Mutasim Brigade, Mustafa Sijri, told Alsouria Net on Thursday: “What is happening now are attempts to conclude the matter with the least losses and cost. The Turkish side is participating in this as well as some figures who have influence over the Hay'at.” He did not give more details.
Sijri indicated that splits had occurred within HTS and said that most of the group's fighters did not want military confrontations, noting at the same time that a number of figures described as “agents” inside HTS were trying to drag it into a “costly battle in which all the youth cadres, especially the Syria ones, perish, and some of the foreigners are trying to mislead them into an open battle with Turkey, a country supporting vulnerable peoples,” as he put it.
Sijri added that “there are some foreigners and known figures who had a positive role in helping us, and they are no longer fooled by these false slogans.” This division inside HTS put pressure on those he described as “agents, traitors and extremists in the Hayyat,” he explained.
Responding to a question about the red lines of the rebel groups, if HTS agreed — theoretically — to enter into an agreement to avoid military confrontations, the spokesman said: “The Free Syrian Army has priorities, most importantly protecting our people in Idleb and defending the [areas liberated from the grip of the regime] and halting bloodshed, above all others — but any talk about Nusra [HTS] continuing to impose control on the area and preventing the Free Syrian Army from re-deploying is a red line for us.”
During the last few days, observers and news reports have spoken of the presence of attempts to negotiate with HTS to reach to a settlement avoiding military confrontation, and which would see the Hay'at leave some areas of Idleb without confrontations in exchange for avoiding major military action against it.
In this context, Turkey has mobilized its military forces on the borders with Idleb, while Euphrates Shield groups have prepared for battle. HTS has faced local pressure as some hold it responsible it for any confrontation for which civilians are paying the price in Idleb.
Idleb and the surrounding areas in northwestern Syria, home to more than 2 million people, most of them displaced from other parts of the country, representing the largest and most populated strongholds of the Syrian opposition.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.