‘Shameful’ rebel infighting in East Ghouta leaves residents ‘in a state of shock’

AMMAN: Months of tensions between Jaish al-Islam and forces led by rival faction Failaq a-Rahman exploded into “violent clashes” in rebel-held East Ghouta on Thursday, as a member of one opposition faction tells Syria Direct people “will suffer in the coming days.”

“The situation in East Ghouta is shameful and people are in a state of shock at what is happening,” an independent citizen journalist in the rebel-held suburbs told Syria Direct on Thursday, requesting anonymity.

The battles began early Thursday morning, when “fighters from Failaq a-Rahman and Jaish al-Fustat, made up of Jabhat a-Nusra, Ahrar a-Sham and Fajr al-Ummah attacked Jaish al-Islam headquarters and the residences of military leaders and sharia judges” in six East Ghouta towns, according to a statement by JAI spokesman Islam Alloush on Thursday.

While Jaish al-Islam largely dominates the military and political sphere in East Ghouta from its base in Douma, Failaq a-Rahman has emerged as the second-strongest rebel faction in the eastern suburbs after local members of JAI rival Ajnad a-Sham merged with the group this past February.

 A Failaq a-Sham brigade defects to Jaish al-Islam in East Ghouta on Thursday as clashes rage between the two factions. Image courtesy of Tawfiq Abu Sahib

Tensions between JAI and Failaq a-Rahman center around the latter’s increasing influence in East Ghouta. In early April, Failaq a-Rahman claimed Jaish al-Islam attempted to assassinate one of its sheikhs, adding to the tensions.

“Failaq a-Rahman and Jaish al-Fustat want to eliminate Jaish al-Islam,” a JAI member who requested anonymity told Syria Direct on Thursday. “They want to increase their influence and control on the ground in [East] Ghouta and blockade JAI in Douma alone.”

“We reject this infighting, but our hand’s been forced,” the same JAI member said.

Failaq a-Rahman has not made any official statements about the current infighting in East Ghouta or Wednesday’s alleged raids on any of its official social media accounts. Syria Direct was not able to reach the brigade for comment on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Failaq a-Rahman’s Air Defense Brigade defected to Jaish al-Islam amidst the fighting on Thursday in a video announcement posted to social media. Failaq’s M.D. Brigade also posted a video on Thursday announcing the “refusal of the orders of the Failaq leadership to fight our brothers.”

Ahrar a-Sham, one of the factions JAI accuses of raiding its headquarters, denies any involvement. “Ahrar a-Sham is not participating in the unfortunate fighting in Ghouta,” the group’s second-in-command, Khaled Abu Anas, tweeted on Thursday. “We call on our brothers on both sides to immediately stop the fighting.”

“Let nobody think that they’re winning because all of Damascus is losing,” added Abu Anas.

Seven JAI members and five civilians have been killed so far in the fighting, pro-opposition Orient News reported Thursday, citing reports by local activists.

Two civilian protests took place on Thursday calling for rebels to “stop the infighting and return to the fronts with the regime,” the same independent citizen journalist told Syria Direct.

The same journalist alleges that Failaq a-Rahman fired on one of the protests, in Zamalka, “with live bullets, injuring a number of people,” a claim Syria Direct could not independently confirm.

“East Ghouta will suffer in the coming days, with more infighting, the blockade and the loss of international trust in the moderate factions,” a Failaq-aligned member of the FSA First Brigade told Syria Direct. “This will reflect negatively on the revolution and the people of East Ghouta.”

All is not quiet on the southern front

As rebel factions battle for influence in East Ghouta, Syrian regime forces have launched a renewed attack on the Marj area in the south of the opposition-held suburbs accompanied by heavy air bombardment.

Thursday’s attack was a continuation of a regime campaign to drive a wedge between Ghouta’s north and south over the past two months despite a standing “cessation of hostilities.”

“Jaish al-Fustat represented by Jabhat a-Nusra and Failaq a-Rahman prevented JAI reinforcements from reaching the fighting fronts with the regime in the Marj and Bala regions,” JAI General Staff spokesman Hamzah Beriqdar tweeted on Thursday.

Waleed Khaled a-Noufal

Waleed a-Noufal was born in Ankhel in northern Daraa province. He attended high school in Ankhel but could not continue his study because of security reasons. Waleed worked as an activist in his local city council and the Umayya Media Center. In 2013, he moved to Jordan and finished his high school degree. Waleed wants to bring about a solution to the current crisis through his reporting.

Hibat-allah Hmoud

Hibat-allah is originally from Aleppo but was raised in Damascus. She couldn’t finish her education because of the Syrian uprising and moved to Jordan in 2012 and has since worked with a number of different humanitarian organizations helping Syrians in Jordan.

Fatima al-Jundi

Fatima was born in Qudsaya, Damascus. She holds a law degree from Damascus university. She moved to Jordan in 2012. She is hoping to learn journalism in order to change people’s perceptions about the conflict in Syria.

Mateo Nelson

Mateo Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. Mateo holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.