AMMAN: Jabhat a-Nusra attacked a rebel brigade after accusing it of pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, in what a rebel commander on the ground described as a move to capture “the only corridor” left to supply rebels in the encircled northern Homs countryside.
Out of fear of retribution from Jabhat a-Nusra, the four sources Syria Direct interviewed for this article insisted not only on anonymity, but asked that no information that could possibly reveal their identity be disclosed.
The regime established a security cordon across northern Homs and the adjacent southern Hama countryside more than two years ago, intending to block supplies originating in Turkey from moving south into rebel-held north Homs. The cordon has mostly been effective, however one opening is located in the contested area. Rebels use a series of hidden paths, such as those falling on the now-embattled turf between Nusra and the Shuhada al-Bayada brigade, to transport shipments into northern Homs from Syria’s north.
Now, Jabhat a-Nusra appears to want that area in northeast Homs, comprised of roughly three villages in order to capture what one brigade commander currently in the theater of operations called “the only corridor” that reaches northern Homs.
“Nusra is working to expel the Shuhada al-Bayada brigade from the eastern part of the north Homs countryside, and to take over the area entirely,” the commander, who is not connected to Shuhada al-Bayada, told Syria Direct Wednesday.
The commander’s statement echoes that of a local citizen journalist with the Homs Media Activists’ Union. Nusra wants to “spread its rule over the northern Homs countryside’s only artery, which is used to bring in foodstuffs and other goods,” he said.
As for Nusra’s accusation of the brigade’s links to the Islamic State, Shuhada al-Bayada circulated a video in early September denying any connection to the Islamic State.
Local media activists and the commander who spoke with Syria Direct Wednesday expressed skepticism about Shuhada al-Bayada’s alleged fealty to the Islamic State.
“The accusation that Shuhada al-Bayada belongs to IS is a lie, manufactured in order for Nusra to rid itself of a-Sarut [Shuhada al-Bayada’s commander] and expel his fighters from the area,” said the commander.
As of Wednesday, Nusra had managed to encircle three villages under Shuhada al-Bayada control. As of publication, “intermittent battles” are ongoing between the two sides, a media activist from northern Homs who wished to remain anonymous told Syria Direct Wednesday.
The local Sharia Council, which organizes legal and religious affairs in the northern Homs countryside, is trying to resolve the dispute between the two brigades “to spare civilians from the fighting,” a member of the council who preferred anonymity told Syria Direct Wednesday.
“But things have gotten worse, with a number of dead and wounded on both sides.”