Leader of extremist HTS calls for 'unity' with Turkish-controlled areas of Syria

Leader of extremist HTS calls for 'unity' with Turkish-controlled areas of Syria
3 min read
15 August, 2021
The leader of the hardline Islamist group HTS has said that his organisation should be allowed to enter Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria and form a "unified administration" with Turkish-backed factions there.
Abu Mohamed Al-Jolani said there was popular support for HTS entry into Turkish-controlled areas of Syria [Getty]

The leader of the Syrian Islamist extremist group Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has said that his organization should enter areas controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian militias and form a "united administration".

During a meeting with displaced Syrians in rebel-held Idlib province, where HTS is the dominant group, Abu Mohammed Al-Jolani said "the people in the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch areas… are calling for Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham to enter their areas".

Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 in northern Aleppo province against ISIS militants, with the assistance of Syrian proxy forces.

In 2018, Turkey and its allied forces launched Operation Olive Branch against the Kurdish People's Protection Forces (YPG) in Afrin in northwestern Aleppo province. This was followed  in 2019 by Operation Peace Spring against the YPG in northeastern Syria.

Turkey has created the "Syrian National Army" (SNA) as an allied proxy force in Syria.

Video of Al-Jolani's comments was broadcast by HTS's Amjad Media Agency. Sources told The New Arab's Arabic language service that it was shot around the 6 August.

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Jolani added that there should be a "unified administration" to govern both HTS-dominated Idlib province and areas controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian groups.

"It is important that there is one authority, one set of institutions, and one authority to administer all the liberated areas controlled by the Syrian opposition," he said.

"Today there is a big difference between Idlib and the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch areas and that is that in Idlib there is one administration and in the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch areas there are many administrations and authorities."

Turkish-backed fighters have occasionally clashed with each other in the areas of Syria they control and this was highlighted by Jolani.

"These areas controlled by the SNA are still mired in chaos and in security, societal, and political problems in contrast to Idlib province, which has seen growth and solutions to problems suffered by its people," Jolani said.

HTS, which was previously affiliated to Al-Qaeda, formed a "National Salvation Government" to administer territories it controls in Idlib province in 2017. The unrecognized "government" rivals the Syrian opposition's "Syrian Interim Government" which was formed by the more moderate Syrian National Coalition (SNC) in 2013 but has little authority on the ground.

In 2017, HTS severed all its links with Al-Qaeda and has recently tried to present a more "moderate" face. It is still, however, designated as a terrorist group by the US, the UK, and Turkey.

An anonymous source from the SNA denied Jolani's claim that Syrians living under SNA control wanted HTS to enter their areas.

"There are no meetings or contacts between HTS and the revolutionary civilian forces, tribal notables, local councils, or military factions in areas controlled by the SNA in northern Aleppo [province]", the source said.