Al-Nusra Front makes new enemies in Aleppo

Al-Nusra Front makes new enemies in Aleppo
Al-Nusra Front militants have not only been advancing on regime areas, but also on rebel-held territory. Moderate opposition forces are now joining a powerful coalition to counter this threat.
3 min read
01 February, 2015
Hazm's fighters have been some of the most successful against the regime [Anadolu]
The timing was significant. 

On Saturday, the command of the Levant Front, the largest union of Syrian opposition factions in the rebel-held city of Aleppo, issued a statement announcing that the Hazm Movement had joined the coalition.

This came only a day after clashes between Hazm and the al-Nusra Front in Aleppo's western countryside.

'Moderate' outfit

The Hazm Movement is a collection of 22 rebel units and has been described as a moderate rebel group.

It is also one of the few rebel forces with minimal Islamist ideology and has been described as one of the best performing outfits in the war against the Syrian regime.

Hazm joined the Levant Front on Friday following threats from al-Nusra Front. The Levant Front subsequently annouonced that any challenges to Hazm should henceforth be directed to the Levant leadership. Hazm, in other words, now has the backing of a coalition that feels able to square up to the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

Tensions erupted between Hazm and the extremist outfit after al-Nusra Front launched a series of attacks on Hazm checkpoints in Sheikh Suleiman, northern Syria. Tensions also increased after Hazm held two al-Nusra fighters and seized their weapons.

Al-Nusra has captured areas under the control of the Syrian Revolutionary Forces in Jabal al-Zawya, Idlib province over the past weeks. Meanwhile, Hazm briefly overran Base 111, which had been under al-Nusra's control.

Activist Ayham al-Hassan told al-Araby al-Jadeed that a day of fighting between the Western backed rebel groups and the al-Qaeda affiliate ended when al-Nusra recaptured the air base.

     The Levent Front also includes factions that are viewed with suspicion by the West.

Hazm did manage to snatch control of Kafr Halab town and made advances into Reef al-Mohandeseen in Aleppo's western countryside region.

Fighting back

The decision of Hazm to join the Levant Front raises questions about future US support for the movement. The US has set up a training programme for 5,000 moderate opposition fighters. Hazm was one of the factions earmarked for the training.

The Levant Front including several armed groups that are viewed as "moderate" by the US.But it also includes factions that are viewed with suspicion by the West.

Hazm has a good relationship with the US, and might not want to upset ties. Since it was founded early last year, the group has been supplied with anti-tank missiles by the US that have been used to destroy dozens of the Syrian regime's armoured vehicles.

Hazm's new affiliation also comes at a time of escalating tensions between al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army's (FSA) 16th Division.

The Badr Brigade is the largest component of the FSA's 16th Division. The group recently issued a statement demanding the immediate release of 11 fighters it suspects are being held by al-Nusra.

The fighters were on their way to a north Aleppo neighbourhood, where the Badr Brigade forces are based, when they were believed to be snatched by the extremist group.

Coalition against al-Nusra

Sources in the FSA say that negotiations are currently taking place for the 16th Division also to join the Levant Front.

If the FSA joins the Levant Front it will be a severe challenge to al-Nusra Front, and the opposition coalition will prove a formidable foe for the Qaeda affiliate.

The move also fits into an emerging pattern whereby opposition groups are clustering together after growing increasingly wary of the threat of al-Nusra Front and its expansion plans for northern Syria, which includes the capture of Jabal al-Zawya in Idlib's countryside from opposition forces.

By joining the Levant Front, Hazm might just have enough allies to guarantee its survival.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.