Syrian Nusra Front assault drives Hazzm from Aleppo
The Nusra Front, the Syrian al-Qaeda franchise, has launched a tank-led offensive on Hazzm Movement positions.
The towns of Miznaz and al-Mashtal, as well as former army base Regiment 46, in Aleppo's western countryside, were all targeted. More than 50 Hazzm fighters were killed in the fighting.
Hazzm fighters were forced to retreat from the town of Atarib in western Aleppo. There are reports that after the defeat, Hazzm merged with the Levant Front, effectively ending the existence of the group.
Fighting the regime
The clashes in the Aleppo governorate coincide with heavy fighting with the Syrian regime's forces around the village of Bashkawi.
Nayrab Airbase has been targeted by the opposition, while the regime dropped at least three barrel bombs on opposition-controlled towns in northern Aleppo.
Mujahed al-Sham, a Syrian activist, said that the clashes between Hazzm and Nusra began two nights ago, around Base 46, a former regime army camp.
At the end of the battle, Hazzm fighters left the barracks and retreated towards Atarib.
Despite a statement from the Levant Force that it would intervene if fighting broke out between the two groups, no such action was taken, said Sham.
"Regardless of whose fault it is, or who started the aggression, we have tried to mobilise the people, calling on the Levant Front and the Ahrar al-Sham group to intervene quickly and end the fighting," he said.
The Levant Front pledged to take over Base 46 and force the two sides to sign a ceasefire agreement, but by that time the battle was almost over, said Munzer al-Sallal, deputy head of the provincial council in the opposition-run districts of Aleppo.
A long-running conflict between the two rebel groups started in October, when Nusra began to take steps to establish a "caliphate" in areas it controlled in Syria.
In an attempt to cool tensions, the Levant Front reportedly urged Hazzm not to antagonise Nusra, while Nusra was asked to not "rush into battle" with its secular rivals.
The conflict intensified on Saturday when Nusra announced that anyone linked to Hazzm would be a "direct target". It also warned the Levant Front, a rebel umbrella group which Hazzm joined a month ago, to "stay away from Hazzm sites".
A statement issued by Nusra claims: "The Levant Front escalated when Hazzm kidnapped four Nusra members and leaders. In addition, the Levant Front always incites its fighters to attack Nusra, and it is completely absent from frontline fighting with the regime's forces."
|The conflict intensified on Saturday when Nusra announced that anyone linked to Hazzm would be a "direct target".|
Assem Zaidan, an activist, said that Hazzm had been an active participant in the war against the Syrian regime.
"It is not unusual for Nusra to accuse its opponents of treason," he said.
Tensions escalated when, late on Friday night, Hazzm accused Nusra of killing and capturing a number of its fighters and said it would pursue the case with an independent Sharia court.
A statement from the group also accused Nusra of withdrawing its fighters from the frontlines in Hamah and Aleppo, to consolidate its grip in areas under its control and make plans to establish an emirate.
The Nusra 'emirate'
In Atarib, an activist group posted a statement on YouTube, calling on opposition forces to unite and turn their attentions to fighting the regime.
The statement said that Nusra were the aggressor due to its attack on Base 46 and the farms of the al-Muhandiseen, where Hazzm fighters were stationed.
Activists called on Nusra to send its fighters to the front lines of the battle with the regime, and called for a general mobilisation of rebel outfits in Atarib, in case of an attack by Nusra.
In Aleppo, 135 leading cultural figures and activists issued a statement condemning Nusra's attack on rebel groups months ago, accusing Nusra of following in the footsteps of the Islamic State group.
The statement called on the Levant Front, which is the largest opposition faction in Aleppo, and all revolutionary groups in northern Syria, to strike back at anyone who threatens the security of rebel-held areas.
Under Sharia leader Abu Maria al-Qahtani, Nusra were hostile towards the Islamic State group and worked closely with rebel factions.
When he was replaced by Jordanian Sami al-Aridi, the group moved ideologically closer to the Islamic State group and attempted to appeal to other extremist sympathisers.
After this, Nusra took a more confrontational approach to the Free Syrian Army and the Salafist Ahrar al-Sham movement.
In August 2014, Nusra announced its hostility to Hazzm and the Syria Revolutionaries Front (SRF) who were based in Idlib.
It later confronted the SRF and expelled it from Jabal al-Zawya, and captured the group's local brigade commanders later in the year.
Nusra is currently consolidating its control in Aleppo and establishing its own Sharia courts, in signs that the movement may be close to announcing the establishment of an emirate.
This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.