Faced with the great loss in Aleppo, leaders of rebel groups rushed to discuss a merger to include all factions fighting in northern Syria, and according to reliable information obtained by Alsouria Net from inside the biggest fighting factions, two merger projects have emerged.
In Badaya, there was the first merger project including both Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Nusra Front), the Noureddin al-Zinki Movement, the Turkistani Islamic Party, Jabhat Ansar al-Din, Ajnad al-Sham and Liwa al-Haqq, while the Ahrar al-Sham movement is holding talks with other revolutionary factions to reach a deal to merge with the first project.
An official source in Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) who attended the meetings — who asked not to have his name revealed — told Alsouria Net that “Ahrar al-Sham met with (Jabhat) Fatah al-Sham, along with the Zinki Movement and Ajnad al-Sham, and agreed after discussions that Abou Ammar al-Omar of Ahrar al-Sham would head the new formation. It was proposed to call it the Syrian Islamic Council, with Abou Mohamed al-Jolani, the current leader of Fatah al-Sham, as its military leader, and Tawfiq Shihab al-Deen, the current leader of Zinki, heading the Shoura council.”
The same source added that: “The names of the groups expected to join were developed, and they are 14 military groups in northern Syria, in addition to a preliminary sharia committee made up of Abou Mohamed Atwan, a sharia official in Fatah al-Sham, and Abou al-Sadiq al-Hamawi, a sharia official in Ahrar al-Sham in addition to al-Sheikh Abi al-Hareth, who is independent.”
The vision of Fatah al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham that the rest of the groups would not object to the idea, according to previous merger meetings which focused on the differences between the most prominent groups in the field.
Parallel integration project
Coinciding with the meetings held in Badaya were those held between several other groups, most prominently Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), Suqour al-Sham Brigade, Faylaq al-Sham (Sham Legion), Ahl al-Sham, Al-Jabhat al-Shamiya (Levant Front), Jaish al-Mujahideen (Army of Mujahideen), and Shuhada al-Islam (Martyrs of Islam Brigade, from Daraya).
According to reports, a draft project to merge was presented to other groups. The draft included the formation of a Shoura council from group leaders and joint military leaders, and a united political council, in addition to uniting the civilian administration, judiciary, checkpoints, and otherwise, before including new factions in the project such as Jaish al-Nasr (Army of Victory) and the Fastaqim Union.
A source told Alsouria Net that “the project may subsequently witness the inclusion of Ahrar al-Sham and the Zinki movement” amid calls for Fatah al-Sham to join, but without preconditions. A clearly-defined project for the groups has not become clear yet, contrary to media reports about the announcement of the groups in the field joining soon.
Activists on social media published pictures from the meeting of the faction leaders, with Abou Eissa al-Sheikh of Saqour al-Sham, Aobu Bakr Batbou of Jaish al-Mujahideen and Abou Hamza al-Amin of Jaish al-Islam.
Abou Baker, head of Jaish al-Mujahideen, said in a tweet that: “You are waiting, with God’s permission, for something that will gladden you, with an approaching merger which will heal your hearts, and bring sorrow to your enemy, with a national project representing the revolution of this grieving people and celebrating our revolution’s rebirth.”
With the increasing fear of two parallel mergers, Alsouria Net learned that the factions of the second merger project intensified their meetings with the attendance of Ahrar al-Sham to reach an appropriate deal over the last three days.
Sources inside Ahrar al-Sham told Alsouria Net that the current efforts were trying to engage Fatah al-Sham in the project despite some drawbacks from some factions, whereby the factions in the project are trying to merge into a single entity and raise the “flag of the Syrian revolution” as the banner for the new group, and add two of the leaders of the groups of the “second merger” to the sharia office, and choose a proven and efficient military commander from every faction to be included in the military council which was previously agreed between Ahrar al-Sham, Fatah al-Sham and Zinki.
In addition, the crisis of Jund al-Aqsa, which announced its merger into Fatah al-Sham months ago while fighting with Ahrar al-Sham was resolved, as it was only a nominal merger. The rebel groups believe that Jund al-Aqsa was responsible for the assassination of a large number of Syrian revolutionary leaders over the last few months and that it has close links to the Islamic State group.
Fear of parallel mergers
With the passing of time, fears have risen over the growing rift, as a source in Jaish al-Fatah expressed to Alsouria Net his fear about the division of northern Syria into two parts if Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and the factions close to it don’t agree to the merger, which could be “an ominous sign because of the possible competition for control of what remains of northern Syria.”
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.