Al-Qaeda linked Syrian alliance threatens rebels over ceasefire agreement

Al-Qaeda linked Syrian alliance threatens rebels over ceasefire agreement
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has made explicit threats to moderate Syrian rebel groups, saying it will target any faction that abides to a Russian-sponsored ceasefire agreement.
3 min read
10 May, 2017
Tahrir al-Sham have led assaults on regime forces in Hama province [AFP]

An al-Qaeda linked Syrian rebel alliance has issued a fatwa that warns moderate rebel groups against abiding by a Russian-sponsored ceasefire.

A statement issued by Tahrir al-Sham threatened to wage war on other rebel factions, such as the Free Syrian Army, if they stick to the terms of an agreement signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey during peace talks in Astana last week.

The deal envisions large parts of Syria being divided into "de-escalation zones", where fighting on the ground would be frozen and bombing of these areas halted.

Tahrir al-Sham, a coalition operating in Idlib which includes some of the most extreme rebel factions, condemned the agreement as a conspiracy against the revolution.

On Tuesday, the alliance issued a fatwa warning it would strike any rebel group that abides to the terms of the Astana deal.

"Accepting the Astana [ceasefire] agreement is a betrayal of God, his messenger and the believers, as it is the betrayal of the blood spilt in efforts attempting to liberate al-Sham [Syria] from the hands of the disbelievers," the group said in a statement.

"For this reason, abolishing groups that are attempting to thwart our jihad is jihad in itself. It is a duty upon every Muslim. This ruling includes those groups as well as their collaborators or those who allow them to work under their banner. All of these are bad [and] should be killed."

Many opposition factions were unhappy with the agreement due to Iran's role in monitoring the ceasefire.

Tehran is one of the chief backers of the Syrian regime and bolstered Bashar al-Assad's power with Iranian proxy forces.

Yet the deal has been supported by the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other countries which have to varying degrees backed the opposition camp.

They are likely to have put pressure on moderate rebel groups to abide by the terms of the agreement, possibly putting them on a collision course with extremist factions.

Tahrir al-Sham was formed in February when Syria's former al-Qaeda franchise Fatah al-Sham formed a coalition with other smaller extremist militias in Idlib province.

It is headed by a former hard line member of rebel coalition Ahrar al-Sham, and viewed by analysts as a way of the more militant groups dominating Idlib.

There have been low-level battles between al-Qaeda aligned factions and more moderate opposition forces in the rebel-held province, while Tahrir al-Sham are believed to be behind the assassination and arrests of a number of rebel commanders.

Moderate rebel groups have been targeted by regime and Russian war planes in Idlib province, with thousands of civilian victims from these air raids. 

International backers of the moderate opposition, such as Turkey, are said to be trying to unite nationalist forces against the fast-growing Tahrir al-Sham coalition.

Activists have also complained about Tahrir al-Sham's authoritarian and heavy-handed rule in Idlib province.

Last week, a moderate rebel fighter known as Abu TOW was arrested for posing with a cigarette in his mouth next to road sign set up by the jihadis warning that smoking is forbidden by God.