HTS Internal Turmoil: Influential Leader Rebels Against Julani

Efforts at internal mediation have so far been unsuccessful in resolving the rift between Sheikh and Julani, Syria TV writes.

Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is currently facing internal turmoil that could impact the authority of its leader, Abu Muhammad al-Julani. According to information from Syria TV, a prominent leader named Jihad Issa al-Sheikh, also known as Abu Ahmed Zakour, is at a crossroads due to differences with Julani. This dispute originated months ago with the arrest of another leader, Abu Maria al-Qahtani, who is close to Sheikh, on charges of cooperating with foreign parties.

Efforts at internal mediation have so far been unsuccessful in resolving the rift between Sheikh and Julani. A meeting held at the end of last November failed to bring about any understanding between the two sides. The disagreement escalated when the security apparatus of HTS attempted to arrest individuals close to Sheikh two weeks ago. Unofficial information suggests that the arrest attempt was related to a new campaign against agents of the international coalition. To avoid arrests, Sheikh and his associates relocated to the Afrin area.

Causes of the crisis 

Insiders familiar with the internal dynamics of HTS have confirmed to Syria TV that the strained relationship between Sheikh and Julani is an extension of the crisis that unfolded within the organization in August of 2023. The crisis began with the arrest of Qahtani and the subsequent leakage of information about his associates to the international coalition.

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According to the sources, the leader of HTS contemplated arresting Sheikh as well but refrained from taking this step due to internal considerations and the potential repercussions. There are concerns about the significant influence wielded by Sheikh, preventing decisive action.

Reports indicate that Julani received information suggesting that Qahtani and Sheikh were involved in a coup attempt against his authority. The alleged plan included installing Sheikh as a replacement for Julani. The sources also highlighted dissatisfaction with Sheikh and Qahtani concerning Julani’s concentration of influence and power within the organization, particularly favoring those close to him, such as his brother and brothers-in-law, including someone known as al-Mughira Badawi.

Information obtained by Syria TV indicates that Julani has become increasingly wary of Qahtani and Sheikh working to establish influence independently from the organization’s leadership, particularly in the areas of Afrin and Azaz. Both leaders have played key roles in infiltrating these areas on behalf of HTS for several years, cultivating relationships with military groups that defected from significant factions in the Syrian National Army. However, Julani now perceives that Sheikh has linked these groups specifically to himself and aims to strengthen ties with military commanders in the national army to expand his influence.

Possible repercussions of the crisis 

The current crisis holds potential repercussions as the leader in dispute with Julani holds sway over tribal groups across different areas of northern Idleb and has connections with military factions operating in regions controlled by the National Army, such as the Shahba gathering.

If the dispute remains unresolved, there’s a possibility of cracks emerging in Julani’s influence in certain areas. Additionally, opportunities for dominance in Afrin and Azaz, extending to the Hamran crossing for fuel entry into northern Syria, may be lost.

The crisis might escalate to involve other dissatisfied leaders concerned about favouritism within the organization. Noteworthy is the stance of the influential security figure, Abu Ahmed Hudud, who attempted to mediate the dispute without absolute support for Julani. This suggests potential resentment toward the concentration of power within HTS.

Sheikh possesses detailed information about the history of HTS and is privy to nuances that the HTS leader prefers not to expose. This knowledge, coupled with his military significance, underscores his importance in the unfolding situation.

 

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.

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