Syrian Islamists Make Quick Gains Against Rival Rebels

Syrian Islamists Make Quick Gains Against Rival Rebels | Jund al-Aqsa seizes territory in Idlib, Hama

After a few days of relative calm between the various rebel factions in Syria’s northwest, with the Jund al-Aqsa faction, a close ally of the Nusra Front, making a new push against the more moderate Islamist factions in the southern part of Idlib Province and the northern part of neighboring Hama Province.

Such infighting among rebel groups has been picking up the pace recently, with Jund al-Aqsa reportedlyy making rapid gains in this new fighting. The losses further weaken the moderate rebels who were involved in the peace talks, weakening their position as representatives of the overall rebellion.

The Nusra Front started the fight against the moderates a couple of weeks ago, accusing them of “conspiracy” for participating in the peace talks. Both sides quickly started massing coalition partners in the area, though the less moderate faction clearly has a substantial advantage.

Idlib Province and its vicinity is the main holding for all non-ISIS rebels at this point, and recent evacuation deals were adding more and more rebels to the area. The fighting both imperils civilians stuck in the area, and the possibility of future evacuations is clearly harmed by the ongoing fighting.

Last 5 posts by Jason Ditz

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.

  • outer_rl

    Once Nusra/Jund all Aqsa controls the whole of Idlib, defeating all the factions who were party to the ceasefire, the stage will be set for the Syrian government to resume it’s offensive to retake Idlib.

  • Bianca

    Yes, definitely Idlib dilemma remains. But I DEFINITELY disagree as to the meaning of the recent gains by Al-Nusra against moderates in Idlib. I do not think that it means that it weakens the moderates as the representatives of the overall rebellion. That may be true in IDLIB, BUT NOT ANYWHERE ELSE. IDLIB is not a large province, and it is now hammed in by the Turkish border on one end, Kurds and Syrian Army on others. Al-Nusra can impose its will on IDLIB, but it is no more a factor over the rest of Syria. The groups that participate in the peace process will continue to participate, even though their presence in IDLIB has been marginalized.
    I think this is the main reason why the Astana sponsors were adamant that only those that represent someone on the ground, have a say in the negotiations. Al-Nusra is trying to impose spokespeople on other groups, to make it look like they are part of Al-Nusra. But this ship has sailed — as those groups have gone through a divorce from Al-Nusra, have seen their Al-Nusra component — people who were not native to the region — leave on green buses for IDLIB. And natives stayed, under whatever warlord name. So, when we say that Al-Nusra has beaten the moderates, it is a bit of a charade — Al-Nusra has basically incorporated their own sheep into its fold, so they no longer use the name of the group they divorced from. Yes, it means that in Idlib, Al-Nusra realized that it has ZERO value of those groups carrying their former names –as a foothold into relevance of negotiations. Now, they are basically becoming all what they have been in the first place, Al-Nusra elements being flushed out from other local groups. Majority of local groups that are led by warlords for the sake of self-defense, but also in hope of gaining something should the regime fall, want now out of that business. Those generally sign amnesty, give up weapons, and come up with an agreement with the Army on how to police the area. This is important, as Army needs forces for main fronts with Al-Nusra and ISIS, and wants to have locals take care of law enforcement. This suits the warlords, as they can then use their fighters as police In their own communities, and get paid for it. However, the biggest problem were groups that received in their middle Al-Nusra fighters and their families, in order to get weapons and political cover. When majority of locals decide that they no longer want to stick with Al-Nusra, they cut the deal with the Government, and Al-Nusra goes to IDLIB. The hardest local problems are in areas where Salafi cult took hold. While not ISIS, they have an ISIS-like mentality, and are doomsday oriented, forsaking their opportunities to normalize life, for the sake of their cult beliefs. There are only few of those left in Syria today.
    So, the main problem still is Al-Nusra that now controls IDLIB and ISIS across Euphrates in Raqqa, Deir Azzor, Palmyra.
    With US now bombing Al-Nusra, calling them now Al-Qaeda, I am not sure what is Al-Nusra trying to accomplish. Or better put, who is their sponsor, and what is this sponsor trying to accomplish.
    The only way this can be sorted out in Idlib, is to actually redefine the fighers, and identify the most intractable of them — as Al-Qaeda, while let others remain in the region after “Al-Qaeda” is defeated. As of now, I do not see such movement. Clearly, Al-Nusra cannot claim jurisdiction over the entire Syrian rebellion any more. So, they need to figure out how to get something in Idlib, but even for that, they need to accept some form of defeat. I cannot imagine US accepting Al-Qaeda at the negotiating table in Geneva.