HTS bombs Syrian town following protests against its rule
The hardline Islamist militant group Hayaat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has besieged and bombed a town in Syria's rebel-held Idlib Province following protests against the group and a self-proclaimed "government" associated with it.
At least five people were killed after HTS used heavy weapons to bombard the town of Kafr Takharim.
Residents of the town had protested against HTS and its affiliated "National Salvation Government" two days ago. They stormed olive oil presses and police stations in the town and expelled HTS-affiliated officials.
There has been a lot of discontent with HTS and the National Salvation government's policies in Idlib recently. HTS seized control of most of Idlib province from more moderate rebel groups in January 2019.
Since then, it has repressed political and civil activity outside its control and imposed taxes and levies, particularly on olive oil which is the main source of income in Kafr Takharim.
It has also imprisoned and tortured independent opposition activists.
HTS affiliated officials, based in Kafr Takharim's olive presses, would forcibly collect "zakah" charity from local people. The protesters burned the officials' books and records after expelling them from the town.
Following the protests HTS militants massed around the town and a delegation from the National Salvation Government demanded the handover of 70 people who had taken part in the protests.
HTS started bombing Kafr Takharim on Thursday morning, although there were earlier reports that Kafr Takharim's residents had reached an agreement with the Islamist militants.
Protests have taken place in other towns in Idlib province against the taxes imposed by HTS' government and its repressive policies.
In response to the deadly bombing of Kafr Takharim, further protests took place in solidarity with the besieged town, with some activists entering the besieged town to show solidarity.
The website of Syrian opposition Orient TV reported that HTS militants beat protesters in the town of Taftinaz who had taken to the streets after the attack on Kafr Takharim.
Idlib province, which is the last remaining area under rebel control in Syria, has also recently been under attack by the Assad regime and Russia. Six people were killed and a children's hospital destroyed in airstrikes yesterday on the south of the province.
The Syrian conflict broke out in 2011 following the brutal suppression of peaceful pro-democracy protests by the Assad regime.
Armed Islamist groups gained influence as the conflict progressed. More than 500,000 civilians have been killed and millions more displaced, mostly as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas.