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Opposition to Nusra Front growing across Syria Open in fullscreen

Rami Sweid

Opposition to Nusra Front growing across Syria

The opposition-held southern suburbs of Damascus have seen large protests against the Nusra Front [AFP]

Date of publication: 4 January, 2015

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Protests against al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise continue in Damascus and the Idlib countryside as a major clash between Nusra and the opposition seems imminent.

Residents of the southern suburbs of Damascus continue to hold protests for the sixth day in a row, demanding al-Qaeda in the Levant, better known as the Nusra Front, leave the areas controlled by the opposition south of the capital.

Protests also continued in the city of Salqin in the Idlib countryside and in the city of al-Atareb outside Aleppo, after the Nusra Front repeatedly assaulted both opposition fighters and local residents.

Flashpoint

More than 1,000 protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers, marching from the grand mosque in the town of Beit Sahem near Damascus to the main square in the nearby town of Babbila, calling on Nusra to leave the areas controlled by the opposition in the capital's southern suburbs.

The protests were sparked by a shooting this week, in which Nusra fighters opened fire on an opposition checkpoint in Beit Sahem. At a demonstration denouncing Nusra's actions the following day, members of the al-Qaeda affiliate shot dead a protester, according to Ismail Matar, spokesperson for the Rally for the Syrian Revolutionary Spring.

More than 1,000 protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers, calling on Nusra to leave the areas controlled by the opposition.

Further protests erupted in the following days in Beit Sahem and Babbila.

Initially, protesters demanded Nusra hand over those responsible for the shootings to the Sharia Court managed by opposition factions. They later went further, demanding Nusra's full withdrawal.

Syrian opposition brigades in the area have not yet taken any action against Nusra forces. However, the Sharia Committee representing opposition factions in the south of Damascus issued a statement calling for the assailants to be turned over to be tried by the opposition-affiliated court.

Nusra rarely agrees to let its members be put on trial by courts that are not under its control. This may mean a military confrontation between opposition forces and Nusra Front is imminent in Damascus' southern suburbs.

Protests in Idlib

Residents of Salqin, near the Syrian-Turkish border in the Idlib countryside in northern Syria, also continued their protests against the Nusra-controlled courthouse and police in the town.

The police had given three girls a beating in the town's main square for not wearing the black clothes imposed on the local population by the Nusra Front.

Nusra reacted to the demonstrations by assaulting and detaining protesters, breaking up the protests and shooting into the air, according to Ismail al-Salqini, an activist who spoke to al-Araby. This only enraged locals further, however, as larger demonstrations came out on the following day.

Al-Nusra Front accused members of the Syrian opposition group Ahrar al-Sham of inciting the residents of Salqin to protest. But Abu Othman al-Halabi, an Ahrar al-Sham leader, denied his group had any role in staging the demonstrations against Nusra.

Tensions peaked on Thursday when Nusra arrested Ahrar al-Sham leaders in Salqin, after further protests.

Mediation efforts by opposition leaders from nearby areas failed to secure the men's release. Ahrar al-Sham then arrested three Nusra Front leaders. The two groups exchanged prisoners on Friday.

Tension mounting

Tension appears to have reached new heights between various Syrian opposition factions and the Nusra Front in northern Syria, especially after Nusra's recent elimination of the Hazzm Movement and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front in the Idlib area.

Tension appears to have reached new heights between Syrian opposition factions and Nusra in northern Syria.

Nusra also this week attacked the village of Jozef in the Jabal al-Zawiya area, a former stronghold of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, killing a resident. Villagers staged a large demonstration during his funeral, denouncing the al-Qaeda affiliate and demanding it withdraw.

The situation seems likely to deteriorate further as sources close to Nusra said the group was preparing to launch an attack on the Syrian regime's 46th Regiment, stationed near the city of al-Atareb in the western Aleppo countryside.

Atareb is considered to be the main stronghold of the US-backed Hazzm Movement. This rumour is fuelling tensions further in the western Aleppo countryside and northern Idlib between various opposition factions and Nusra.

All opposition factions in northern Syria are anticipating an assault by Nusra, especially after it mounted daring attacks on some of the largest factions in the Idlib countryside. Analysts fear this may even be a prelude to a full-blown confrontation such as the clashes between Syrian opposition factions and the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS) that erupted last year.

The odds in the coming battle do not favour Syrian opposition forces, however, especially as they are under sustained pressure from Syrian regime forces north of Aleppo, which are trying to take control of the strategic area of Mallah to encircle and besiege opposition-controlled areas in Aleppo.

This has been compounded by repeated IS attacks on areas controlled by the Syrian opposition in the northern Aleppo countryside. This means the opposition in the region is overstretched, trying to contain Nusra's northward expansion while simultaneously trying to fight the forces of the Syrian regime and the IS group.


This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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