February 26, 2015
Dan Wilkofsky, Mohammed al-Haj Ali and Muatasem Jamal
AMMAN: Jabhat a-Nusra has declared war on Harakat Hazm in Syria’s north, with each accusing the other of sowing conflict between rebels, disrupting supply lines and summarily arresting and executing fighters in the western Aleppo countryside and beyond.
“Jabhat a-Nusra, from the date of this announcement’s publication, considers what was has been called ‘Harakat Hazm,’ in all its components, a direct target,” the al-Qaeda affiliate wrote in a statement Wednesday.
There are already “indications of a coming conflict” between the two groups, Mundhir a-Salal, a member of al-Jabha a-Shamiya currently in the northeast Aleppo countryside, told Syria Direct Thursday.
In their Wednesday statement, Nusra accused the formerly US-backed Hazm of exploiting their involvement in the recent battles around Aleppo city to “cause infighting with the mujahideen in the rear lines in the western countryside and elsewhere,” and “hinder the mujahideen supply lines, and make movement difficult by setting up mobile checkpoints and ambushes” to arrest fighters.
Nusra further accused Hazm of recently arresting five, and executing three of their men including Abu Eisa a-Tabqa, a Nusra emir.
Hazm responded with its own, almost identically worded announcement on Thursday.
Nusra, according to Hazm, “hindered mujahideen supply lines and made movement difficult by setting up mobile checkpoints and ambushes” to abduct rebel fighters. Hazm alluded to the Al-Qaeda affiliate possibly colluding with the regime, saying in its statement that “the Syrian army advanced only through those areas that Nusra was stationed in.”
Harakat Hazm leader Mohammed Hablus, captured and killed by Nusra earlier this month. Photo courtesy of @Nedal_sb.
Although the recent escalation between the rebel groups coincides with the regime’s ‘Complete the Encirclement’ assault on Aleppo earlier this month, bad blood between Nusra and Hazm runs back at least until last fall, when Nusra fought and then expelled Hazm ally the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front from the Idlib countryside.
Since that time, the two groups have engaged periodically in a series of firefights and mutual abductions and executions. Two weeks ago, Nusra stormed a Hazm stronghold, Maarat Hurma, in the southern Idlib countryside one day after residents led an anti-Nusra protest there, a citizen journalist told Syria Direct earlier this month.
In its Thursday statement, Hazm accused Nusra of recently capturing four of its members “in addition to 11 prisoners held in Nusra prisons for no reason, with no knowledge of their fate.”
Hazm did not go so far as to declare war on Jabhat a-Nusra, stating its willingness to settle differences by handing over the case to an “independent legitimate body” for arbitration. But Twitter statements made by a Hazm leader on Thursday suggest that the group may take a more violent approach.
“God willing no Khawarij (Kharijites) will remain in Syria, God willing Harakat Hazm will cut off the Khawarji‘s horns, dogs of those damned to hell, a-Nusra you dogs of those damned to hell,” Morshed al-Khalid, leader of Hazm in Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama, wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.
The term “Kharijites,” or “those who went outside [Islam],” refers to a seventh-century school of Islam noted for rebelling against Muslim leaders, and for its unorthodox practice of takfir, or excommunication.
Al-Jabha a-Shamia, the umbrella group of militias of which Hazm is a member, issued the group a “last warning” on Wednesday, as it called on Nusra to abstain from “being hasty in beginning to fight with each other.”
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