Two of Syria's most powerful rebel alliances clash in troubled Idlib province

Two of Syria's most powerful rebel alliances clash in troubled Idlib province
Syrian rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham have clashed in Idlib province, following weeks of tensions between two of the country's most powerful opposition militias.
3 min read
16 July, 2017
Rebel groups in Syria have clashed again [AFP-file photo]
Two of Syria's most powerful rebel alliances have clashed in Idlib province, following weeks of tensions between the two former allies.

Ahrar al-Sham reported on Saturday that its fighters fought a brief skirmish with militants from the al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Tel Touqan village, Idlib - the only province completely controlled by Syrian rebels.

A suicide bomber targeted Ahrar al-Sham fighters in the same village on 31 May, killing at least 20 people highlighting the growing turmoil in Idlib province.

The Islamist opposition group has accused HTS of a campaign of "tyranny" in Idlib province.

Ahrar al-Sham said the al-Qaeda-linked group sent reinforcements to hot spots in Idlib on Friday in preparation for an offensive against Ahrar al-Sham. 

"Our first choice is to resort to Islamic law and solve the problems away from arms and bloodletting," the Ahrar al-Sham statement said.

"If the (HTS) command insists on its tyrannical acts .... the movement (Ahrar al-Sham) is ready to repel injustice."

The clashes broke out on Friday evening, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, when HTS fighters tried to remove an Ahrar al-Sham checkpoint by force after a commander and fighters were detained by the rebel group.

Ahrar al-Sham cut off water supplies to the provincial capital in retaliation.

Earlier in the week, Tahrir al-Sham said two of its fighters were found dead in Idlib province and blamed a militia allied to Ahrar al-Sham for their deaths.

It follows weeks of tensions between the two groups with violence appearing imminent.

Both groups have been vying for power in Idlib province and attempted to woo Idlib-based militias over to their side. 

Hundreds of fighters have entered Idlib over the past seven months, following truce agreements with the regime which gave the rebels safe passage to the opposition province from Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs.

During the past months, Ahrar al-Sham has tried to re-fashion itself as a more moderate movement than its HTS counterpart.

It has adopted the colours of green-white-black opposition flag associated with the Free Syrian Army and other moderates within the revolution against Bashar al-Assad.

Tahrir al-Sham formed earlier this year when jihadi group Fatah al-Sham - which officially broke ties with al-Qaeda in July 2016 - allied with more radical militias in Idlib.

Ahrar al-Sham and its jihadi counterparts were former allies, but violence broke out between the two parties in Idlib before a truce was reached in February.

HTS has launched a campaign to root out militants accused of ties to the Islamic State group in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, bomb attacks have also targeted rebel groups from both sides in the restless province and killed scores of fighters and civilians.

Agencies contributed to this story.