Idlib district residents expel ANF and its allies
By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo
Residents of Maarat al-Numan in Syria's Idlib province have expelled Tahrir al-Sham -- an alliance of extremist factions that includes al-Nusra Front (ANF) -- following days of demonstrations and confrontations, a local activist said.
The city had been tense after Tahrir al-Sham elements stormed it in early June in pursuit of members of the 13th Division, a faction affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said activist Hani al-Numan, a Maarat al-Numan native.
Many 13th Division fighters are natives of Maarat al-Numan, which rejects the presence of ANF and its allies, he told Diyaruna, using a pseudonym to protect his identity.
Tahrir al-Sham stormed the city "to get rid of the 13th Division, which has been on the lookout for them to prevent violations and arrests", he said.
On June 8th, Tahrir al-Sham captured the 13th Division's headquarters in Maarat al-Numan, announcing it was in full control of the city the following day.
Clashes broke out across the city on June 9th, after Tahrir al-Sham elements stormed the headquarters of the FSA police stations which administer the city.
Demonstrations met with violence
Following the incident, spontaneous demonstrations set out from the Great Mosque of Maarat al-Numan.
Residents of surrounding villages and towns, especially Kafruma, joined demonstrators bearing the flag of the Syrian revolution, who chanted, "The people are stronger than you", and other slogans denouncing ANF.
"ANF elements responded by opening fire, killing five and wounding more than 20," al-Numan said.
Among those killed was Tayseer Samahi, a 13th Division leader who served as the town's deputy police chief, he added.
Under the terms of a June 11th ceasefire agreement, Tahrir al-Sham agreed to stop fighting the 13th Division, providing the faction would disband.
"The agreement called for the full departure of Tahrir al-Sham from the city, withdrawal of its elements from all checkpoints around it, and the disbandment of the 13th Division," al-Numan said.
"But tensions are still high in town and some surrounding villages following the confrontations," he said.
"The situation is very tense and can explode anytime," he added.
The two sides have clashed more than once, especially in 2016, following attempts to impose a harsh form of sharia that meted out punishments for violations such as failing to adhere to a strict Islamic dress code and smoking.
Political activities also had been banned.