As the situation remains calm in the Idleb governorate of northwestern Syria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and its leader, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, are hastily making plans for the future. The most recent of these arrangements came two weeks ago when the group announced that it had appointed eight recruiters to attract young people, aged 20 to 30 years old.
The move came just two days after Julani addressed a meeting with Idleb tribal elders, in which he tried to get closer to civilians in the province, where he talked about the “post-Assad” phase and the future of areas under his control, administratively, militarily, and economically.
“In this current stage, we are building institutions and preparing for a major war,” Julani said, according to a video posted on private Telegram accounts. “Every institution we build as part of our liberation brings us one step closer to Damascus.”
“The Assad regime is collapsing,” said al-Julani, leader of the largest faction operating in Idleb in recent years. “We are reconstructing and building institutions, while the regime may collapse at any moment: its economic position is dire, its political situation has reached rock bottom, and the social situation is awful.”
Researchers view Julani’s “changing discourse,” while not new, as a new early step towards acceptance of the current situation in Idleb governorate. This acceptance covers both military organization and civil administration, which is still struggling amongst the Syrian Salvation Government’s institutions.
The announcement of recruiters being appointed may be connected with leading discussion points in northern Syria in recent months. Various military groups, be they HTS or the National Front for Liberation, revealed plans to form a unified military council, with support from Turkey.
According to Al-Souria Net’s military sources, the military council’s arrangements remain in force. The various groups continue to set up camps and hold exercises, while also working to enlist more fighters.
“The military council has already moved from planning to implementation, but has made this official announcement due to political and military considerations — the details of which are not yet clear in the governorate,” the sources said.
HTS said it had carried out a security campaign against “regime agents” in several parts of rural Idleb, hunting those who support the Assad regime and its presidential elections.
According to a statement issued on Saturday by HTS ’s security apparatus, the group’s executive body launched a security operation against “agents of the criminal regime, its supporters, and various suspects”.
According to the statement, the operation took place in and around Salqin, Jisr al-Shughur, and the surrounding countryside.
The security campaign came after a person posted a video last Friday in the city of Salqin, northwest of Idleb. The video offered congratulations to Assad for winning the presidential election, which [the regime’s] opponents have described as “a charade.”
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.