Nusra’s sacked south Damascus leadership reemerges as suspected IS affiliate in Yarmouk camp


December 7, 2015

AMMAN: Jamaat al-Ansar, a newly formed militia in southern Damascus with suspected ties to the Islamic State, has failed in an attempt to capture one of the few remaining pieces of turf held by opposition rebels inside Yarmouk camp, a local citizen journalist told Syria Direct Monday.

Fighters with Jamaat al-Ansar launched an attack Sunday against an uncompleted hospital building used as a military base by Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis. The building lies adjacent to the town of Yelda, where a truce with the regime is active, Waleed al-Agha told Syria Direct from Yelda.

“Jamaat al-Ansar’s operation had two goals: to advance towards Yelda, and to attack the Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis brigade that once was active in Yarmouk.”

Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, the largest rebel brigade in Yarmouk before IS’s April invasion, now has a presence in the camp limited to the site of Sunday’s attack. Still, they drove back Jamaat al-Ansar’s fighters, reported pro-opposition Yarmouk Camp Offline Sunday.

 Jamaat al-Ansar’s founding statement.

When Jamaat al-Ansar was formed in early November, Waleed al-Agha described it to Syria Direct as a group led by former Jabhat a-Nusra members who were strongly suspected of working with the Islamic State: “They were known as having a good relationship with IS…the Islamic State invaded Yarmouk camp with their help.”

Jabhat a-Nusra demoted its southern Damascus-based leadership after they assisted IS’s Yarmouk invasion, a move that “blackened Jabhat a-Nusra’s image in south Damascus, and caused conflict between them and other local rebel brigades,” Matar Ismail, a Yelda-based journalist who works with pro-opposition Rabia a-Thawra, told Syria Direct.

Abu Khadar and Abu Hashem al-Libi, who are among the local Nusra officials sacked by their central leadership, defected and went on to form Jamaat al-Ansar, which welcomed other local fighters mostly from Yarmouk camp, Al-Agha and Ismail told Syria Direct.

Jamaat al-Ansar’s founding announcement does not mention the Islamic State, but said it “cooperates with all Muslims, groups and individuals” in order to “fight back the aggression against Muslim lands…until they are liberated from the filth of the Crusaders, Jews, Shiites (rawafidh) and Alawites.” It was not immediately clear what the relationship is between the two factions, now co-existing within the Yarmouk camp’s two square kilometers.

In the wake of these developments, Jamaat al-Ansar has become “stronger than Nusra” in Yarmouk camp, said Matar Ismail.

“That’s because they’re sympathetic with IS, and they hold sway over the area they control,” said al-Agha, adding that the leadership that was ejected by Nusra and became Jamaat al-Ansar “was very well armed.”

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