As the so-called “Rebel Civil War” rages in Idlib province, certain factions within the Ahrar al-Sham coalition, which only yesterday was opposed to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) as a whole since the onset of the recent rebel infighting, are now joining the JFS-led Hai’at Tahrir al-Sham (Levant Liberation Body) operations room.
In the last few hours reports have been leaking in that sub-factions within Ahrar al-Sham are now joining the Hai’at Tahrir al-Sham alliance. The groups (so far) have been identified as the Al-Aqsa (not to be mistaken for Jund al-Aqsa) and Suqour al-Sham battalions.
The split could almost be anticipated, first due to Ahrar al-Sham’s historical tendency for political fracture (the group has formally split within its own ranks at least two times prior to this most recent one) and, secondly, due to the unrelenting offensive unleashed by JFS against non-obliging “rebel” groups which was bound to drive the hardline Salafist elements of Ahrar al-Sham away from the supposedly less radical militant Islamists of the group.
The Hai’at Tahrir al-Sham operations room is a JFS initiative and represents, in every respect, the consolidation of JFS political and military power and economic interests within Idlib province. This being said, it is interesting to note that the “general commander” of the alliance is Abu Jaber Al-Shaykh (not to be mistaken with the “military leader” Abu Mohammad al-Julani), a former Ahrar al-Sham commander who defected in September 2015.
Abu Jaber Al-Shaykh‘s presence as a high-ranking commander within Hai’at Tahrir al-Sham may also have played a part in tipping the loyalty of certain factions within Ahrar al-Sham towards formal conglomeration into a JFS-dominated structure.