After a week of combat, Jabhat a-Nusra routed the US-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front in south Idlib, taking the prize of Jabal a-Zawiya and even the hometown of SRF leader Jamal Maruf.
“We no longer see SRF members at all,” Mohammed Ibrahim, a citizen journalist in the southern Idlib countryside, tells Syria Direct’s Osama Abu Zeid.
Nusra appears unfazed by Maruf’s threats to re-take his old turf and is already consolidating its rule.
“The first thing they did was to build a checkpoint, then forced women to wear the hijab.”
Q: What is the reaction of civilians in Jabal a-Zawiya to Nusra’s control over the area and the expulsion of the SRF?
People have become more at ease after Jamal Maruf and his men left. People are saying: let him get what he deserves, he needs to be hanged.
View of Jamal Maruf’s home in Deir Sunbul. Photo courtesy ofAmmar Krayem.
Q: After the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) withdrew from Jabal a-Zawiya, did they disappear totally from the area?
Unfortunately yes, we no longer see SRF members at all, because most of them pledged allegiance to Nusra after the latter took control of SRF headquarters—including a brigade from Harakat Hazm.
Q: Is Harakat Hazm still in the area?
No, there’s no trace of them.
Q: What’s the importance of Jabal a-Zawiya?
Jabal a-Zawiya looks out over the entire [surrounding] area, from the beginning of Maarat a-Nauman until after Saraqib, a length of 50km. All of the [surrounding] villages are visible from the hill, because they are situated in a valley and the hill is elevated.
Q: What are the next steps for the SRF after losing Jabal a-Zawiya?
They’ll search for another place where they’re more popular, in the eastern outskirts of Maarat a-Nuaman. In the very beginning of the revolution, they took refuge in that area, especially in the village of al-Ghadfa, 10km east of Maarat a-Nuaman.
Q: Why did they take refuge there in the past?
In short, the village was a safe area and its people rich, so they could support [the SRF], even if just with money to buy ammunition.
It was one of the first villages to participate in the revolution, and the SRF is popular there.
Q: Is Jamal Maruf in al-Ghadfa right now?
No, no one knows where he is.
Q: What do you see happening next?
In short, Nusra noticed that it needs to find a popular base for itself and an area of influence and power in the region. It needs to raise the morale of its fighters, and make people sympathetic to the pretext that they are fighting corruption, and corrupt people.
The first thing they did was to build a checkpoint, and start to force women to wear the hijab. The Islamic State and Nusra are two sides of the same coin.