Syria students say extremists waging war on their future
In the Syrian province of Idlib, which is largely under the control of Tahrir al-Sham, Mudar Darwish and fellow medical students clutched banners and chanted against the closure of their university.
"Our future is being wasted because of unfair decisions against our university," Darwish told the crowd, protesting against the closure of his university in Maaret al-Numan and other higher education institutions in the province.
"We will not allow it," he said.
Tahrir al-Sham has closed down a dozen universities this year, in a bid to bring them under its control, and has removed professors who oppose it from others.
The so-called "salvation government", an administrative body dominated by the extremist alliance, said the move serves to regulate higher education.
The degrees offered by Idlib's universities, including the Maaret al-Numan university, are not recognised abroad, but they can facilitate employment within the province.
Darwish said the closure of the Maaret al-Numan university will deal a blow to "the future of 1,700 students".
After two weeks of rallies in Maaret al-Numan, students moved their protest to Idlib city, where they gathered around the so-called Council of Higher Education, a body linked to the salvation government.
Tahrir al-Sham quickly swept in to curb protests.
After the first rally, the extremist alliance erected checkpoints to prevent more students from Maaret al-Numan and the nearby town of Ariha from joining demonstrations.
They threatened to detain students if demonstrators did not disperse.
'Our future is being thrown away'
Majdi al-Husni, head of the salvation government's Council of Higher Education, said the administration has granted accreditation to only eight universities.
"There are more than 13 educational institutions operating without the oversight of the Council of Higher Education," he added. "This reflects badly on the reputation of higher education in the region."
Protests in Maaret al-Numan have largely fizzled out in recent days but students and teachers continued to express anger at Tahrir al-Sham.
In a sign of defiance, staff members at the faculty of medicine at the Maaret al-Numan university started teaching on the street outside the campus.
But heavy regime shelling on the town has disrupted these open-air classes.
Since September, Idlib has been protected from a massive regime offensive by a ceasefire deal brokered by Russia and Turkey.
But sporadic regime bombardment has continued to hit the region, and hundreds of missiles have rained down on Maaret al-Numan in recent weeks.
With the closure of the university, "many young people will give up their studies to stay at home or look for work", fellow student Mohammed al-Shahud said.
"Our future is being thrown away," he said.