Terrorism

Tahrir al-Sham at crisis point in northern Syria: activists

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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A group of Syrian students newly recruited by Tahrir al-Sham pose for a photograph before being sent to fight against Syrian regime forces. [Photo courtesy of Al-Sahel Al-Shamali News Telegram account]

Tahrir al-Sham is facing unstable conditions in what is left of the areas under its control in Syria's Idlib and Aleppo provinces, on the edges of Latakia province, and in other parts of northern Syria where it has a presence, local activists said.

This is due to a severe shortfall in its flow of funding, the quickening pace of military operations, and the exodus of thousands of civilians from the area, along with many of its own fighters, which has left it short of hands, they said.

Tahrir al-Sham is in a state of utter disarray brought on by the new developments in the areas under its control -- or what is left of them -- in rural Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo, Idlib activist Musab Assaf told Diyaruna.

The group's funding sources -- such as taxes and the zakat it imposes on the local population -- have declined, he said, and commercial activity has ground to a near-complete halt due to the fighting and massive wave of displacement.

This has left vast, unpopulated areas, which means Tahrir al-Sham cannot reap a profit from commercial transactions or impose fees or taxes on the movement of goods in and out of the areas it controls, particularly fuel, he said.

Still persecuting activists

Despite the difficult conditions in the Idlib region, Assaf said, Tahrir al-Sham has not eased its campaign to target its opponents.

"It recently detained activists Trad Shaabouk and Ahmed al-Naasan, who had organised an initiative in the city of Salqin to help displaced persons who fled rural Idlib and Aleppo," he said.

The activists organised the Ahl al-Khair (People of Charity) initiative to help displaced persons coming into the area with donations collected from residents and shop owners.

The activists had voiced their objection to Tahrir al-Sham opening a number of vacant homes and housing families of its fighters in them, Assaf said, while prohibiting anyone who was not affiliated with the extremist alliance from seeking shelter in them.

This move sparked protests and tensions in the city, he said.

Maarat al-Numan resident Hani al-Numan told Diyaruna that dozens of displaced families fleeing the airstrikes and shelling to northern Syria have reported that many Tahrir al-Sham checkpoints and crossings are imposing fees.

"The group's fighters are demanding tributes to allow the civilians attempting to pass through them entry, especially families moving their furniture," he said.

Truck drivers also have reported that Tahrir al-Sham has imposed high fees on them for transporting displaced persons and their belongings, he said, noting that the drivers only accept small fees to cover their fuel and basic expenses.

Tahrir al-Sham in decline

Al-Numan said people have noticed that "Tahrir al-Sham is not putting up much of a fight" against the regime's onslaught, and have observed its "sudden withdrawals from combat zones" that have allowed regime forces to advance.

"Rumours have been circulating in the region that Tahrir al-Sham will soon dissolve itself, because of the state of deterioration it has reached," he said.

Tahrir al-Sham has attempted to address the shortfall in manpower it is facing because of the recent flight or death of a large number of its elements via various means, Syrian journalist Mohammed al-Abdullah told Diyaruna.

These include releasing its own fighters it had detained for various reasons, along with fighters from other factions it had captured and imprisoned, "on the condition that they fight for it on the battlefronts", he said.

"Several new units have been formed with these elements and dispatched to the frontlines, where fighting has been most intense," he noted.

Tahrir al-Sham also launched a recruitment campaign targeting high school and university students, demanding that they join the fight under the pretext of "performing jihad", he said.

Another campaign, titled "March Out, Young and Old" has been attempting to draw youth and men to fight in its ranks, al-Abdullah said.

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