Salafist defectors from Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) attacked its leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani after he appeared among several figures from predominantly Christian villages in the western countryside of Jisr al-Shughur.
They accused Julani of following the footsteps of Syrian regime president Bashar al-Assad by investing in minorities in order to win the satisfaction of the international community. This followed an earlier visit to the predominantly Druze minority in Jabal al-Sumaq, in early June.
Amjad agency, the media agency of HTS, broadcast pictures of Julani in the middle of several personalities, which it said were from his visit to the villages of Yacoubiya, al-Quniyah, and al-Jadida in the western countryside of Jisr al-Shughur. He met with the elders of these villages without further details on the topics discussed during the meeting.
Protector of minorities!
The defected HTS official, lawyer Issam al-Khatib, described Julani as a “rooster” who tries to market his meat to the international community by showing himself as a protector of minorities living within his areas of control.
Khatib said in Telegram that Julani tried to lure the Druze minority during his recent appearance in Jabal al-Sumaq with the words “No compulsion in religion.” He is doing the same today with the Christians in Jisr al-Shughour, by broadcasting the phrase “followers of the Christian religion” on his media. However, this is all to preserve the status of the redeemed leader.
For his part, the Salafist defector from HTS Abu Yahya al-Shami saw that al-Julani presented, during his last meeting with the Druze in Jabal al-Summaq, an acknowledgment of their persistence in “their religion and their misguidance.”He added, that if he meets today with Christians in Jisr al-Shughur, it is the same as validating the legitimacy of their practices at all levels. Asking about the next step, he said: “Where are you going, Julani?”
Removing the al-Qaeda connotation
Since HTS declared its separation from al-Qaeda, Julani does not spare a civil or official occasion to appear. He is devoting most of his meetings to talking about civil and service matters– as he did in Jabal al-Sumaq when he promised to provide and improve services.
The director of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, Fadel Abdel Ghani, said that Julani’s visit was an attempt to wash al-Qaeda’s influence away. This comes to achieve the most significant gain by removing him and his organization from the international terrorist lists, which are still attached to him even after he announced his separation from it in July 2016.
“Through his meetings with minorities, Julani tries to show himself as part of this society, and the change in the behaviour of HTS following its separation from al-Qaeda is real,” Abdel Ghani told Al-Modon. He added that he wants to reassure the international community that minorities enjoy their complete religious and ideological freedom, contrary to the core of al-Qaeda’s faith, which is based on preventing it and even fighting it.
Christian Property Office
The Christian departure from the Idleb governorate began at the beginning of the Syrian war. Still, it increased with the Fatah army taking control of the governorate in 2015, with only 200 Christians remaining, mostly elderly. The number of Christian youth in the governorate is only 10, after the last statistics of Christians in the governorate recorded 10,000 before the war.
Despite the announcement of HTS’ separation from al-Qaeda, the violations against Christians did not stop, and their property was confiscated under the name of the Office of “Christian Property.” It seized the property of Christians residing in areas of regime control and present in their villages alike for the benefit of the leaders and soldiers of HTS.
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.