February 26, 2015
February has witnessed an uptick in hostilities between Jabhat a-Nusra and non-allied rebel brigades in the Idlib countryside.
Sawaiq a-Rahman, loyal to al-Jabha al-Islamiya, kidnapped and hanged a Nusra Emir on February 13 who had executed two local women on charges of adultery, reported London-based al-Arabi al-Jadeed. The same brigade admitted responsibility on February 23 for killing six Nusra fighters near Maarat al-Nuaman, reported pro-opposition Smartnews.
Nusra, meanwhile, has conducted a series of attacks this month on FSA-affiliated brigades in Idlib; storming the village of al-Amiriya on February 21 and burning the house of a local rebel leader.
That move followed a February 16 raid on another town, Ein la-Roz, where Nusra arrested members of Al-Liwa a-Sabia and confiscated their weapons, and a February 14 attack on Maarat Hurma, a Harakat Hazm headquarters.
One high-ranking FSA fighter in the southern Idlib countryside sees Nusra’s raids as part of a larger plan.
“The goal of these operations is to take out some FSA brigades who have weapons and do not submit to Nusra’s orders,” Abu Ahmed al-Idlibi, the alias of the FSA fighter tells Syria Direct’s Muatasem Jamal.
“Nusra does not want anyone to contest their control of the area,” the fighter says.
It wants an emirate of its own in the Idlib countryside.”
Q: Describe the relationship between Nusra and residents in the southern Idlib countryside?
The relationship is awful. Nusra lost its popular support in the Idlib countryside because of bad practices against the locals and its similarity to the Islamic State organization in terms of its actions and unjust laws.
Its relationship with Syrians is like the relationship between a hangman and prisoner.
Q: How is the relationship between Nusra and the FSA battalions in the Idlib countryside?
Nusra does not acknowledge us as a party in the opposition. They consider us agents working for America, the West and the regime, something unacceptable to them.
Therefore the relationship is very bad, and clashes occur between us such as the clash in Maarat Hurma [two weeks ago].
There are also umara [princes] in Nusra who have personal revenge issues with fighters from the FSA because of silly things, so they undertake revenge in the name of Jabhat a-Nusra.
Some FSA officers presented complaints against these Nusra princes to Nusra’s high command, but the command did not respond. They only said that these are personal mistakes from the fighters and they will not hold them accountable.
Q: What are the reasons behind Nusra’s storming of some villages in the Idlib countryside and arresting FSA fighters and burning their houses, as happened in al-Amiriya? Are these operations random or organized, and if so what is their purpose?
There are no real, direct reasons behind these operations. They spring merely from charges against FSA fighters, and guesses that the FSA is assassinating their leaders and umara.
The reason why they burned the house of the leader of Alwiya al-Ansar [Muthqal al-Abdullah] and arrested a number of his fighters [in the village of al-Amiriya] was the charge that he and his forces assassinated some of their soldiers.
We can say that these operations are planned in advance, because Nusra always enters with large columns and not just a small group of fighters.
The goal of these operations is to take out some FSA brigades who to not submit to Nusra’s orders and who have weapons. That is to say, Nusra does not want anyone to contest its control of the area, it wants an emirate of its own in the Idlib countryside.
Q: How does Nusra’s raiding and arresting of supporters and fighters with the FSA impact the rebel’s battles against the regime, especially on the fronts like Morek and Jabal a-Zawiya?
I can see that after these arrest and raid operations against FSA fighters, the regime’s soldiers have become comfortable on the fronts. For example, FSA fighters on the Morek front do not fire at the regime now, they are simply stationed in the area.
As for what remains of the fronts in Jabal a-Zawiya, the FSA is exhausted, and of course that impacts the course of battles with the regime, and puts the regime in a stronger position.
Q: What is the FSA’s stance towards these arrests and other Nusra actions?
The FSA does not want to fall into a conflict with a third party, i.e. Nusra. The conflict with IS and the regime is enough. The FSA fears that it will become embroiled in killing Muslims—but if things get really bad, there will be strong responses against Nusra in the future.
Q: What was Nusra’s reaction to residents who protested against them? Did their treatment of civilians under their rule improve afterwards?
Their reaction was to raid and arrest. They threatened the locals that they would open fire on them if they came out to protest in the future.
Nusra is showing a different face from that when it entered the Idlib countryside several months ago. It has become influenced by IS and IS’s actions, and felt that it gained control of the southern countryside, so showed it true, ugly face to the locals.
Q: A few days ago one of Nusra’s ammo depots was blown up in the village of Bilin in Jabal a-Zawiya, and a number of Nusra fighters were killed, just as a Nusra car was targeted recently. Does the FSA have a relationship with these anti-Nusra operations?
I don’t think it’s farfetched that any party has a relationship with these operations against Nusra because they have come to have many enemies.
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