Violence erupted between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and Ahrar al-Sham, its long-time ally and its bridge into the Syrian rebellion, beginning on 19 January. These clashes expanded to encompass the mainstream armed opposition on 23 January. Today, al-Maqalaat, a pro-JFS outlet, published a long statement explaining the fighting from JFS’s point-of-view. The salient points of the argument and other interesting elements are highlighted in bold.
The contention is that JFS acted to protect the Syrian revolution—read: itself—from a foreign conspiracy. JFS says the trigger was the Astana conference, which would deliver to the rebellion surrender-by-another-name at the Astana conference. From a rebel perspective, it has to be conceded that the negotiations at Astana—which at best grant additional humanitarian access to opposition communities, while legitimating the gains of the pro-Assad coalition’s most recent round of aggression as the new normal, the baseline from which to negotiate a settlement—offer very little, not unlike the prior Geneva process. But JFS’s mention of a potential operation against it by Turkey and Russia, plus the Coalition’s increased attacks on JFS, is suggestive. JFS is able to use Astana, and Turkey’s tacit approval of the regime coalition’s takeover of Aleppo City in exchange for its enclave in northern Aleppo remaining unmolested, to justify its attacks on Turkish-supported rebel groups, eliminating key assets that would surely be used if Turkey turned to a concerted campaign against JFS.
Thus, the JFS contention is that it acted in pre-emptive self-defence—and even then it only used a minimum of force; it acted in a “measured” and “balanced” way in assaulting the rebellion. Indeed, it did not really assault the rebels at all! Rather, it was the victim of assault after it convinced rebels through argument that their leaders were treasonous. Though JFS simultaneously requires credit for removing corrupt, unwilling rebel units that set at risk the lives of “millions of Syrian Muslims”. This is, to say the least, a highly partial view of events, part of JFS’s continuing use of the Islamic State as a foil. JFS did not use full force to destroy these groups, so the argument goes, and it did not demand their surrender and allegiance—continuing al-Qaeda’s method of shaping, rather than directly ruling, revolutionary dynamics—so this means it is a “middle way”: between foreign-backed secularists and the deviant extremism of the Islamic State.
JFS also continues to insist that the blame for a lack of a merger lies elsewhere: it cut its links to al-Qaeda (a major sacrifice for the revolution, in JFS’s telling), offered the leadership role in a merger to others, and generally asked for less than its battlefield capabilities would warrant. And still the proposal was rejected because groups would be cut off by their foreign supporters and because of various clerics whose views JFS regards unfavourably. JFS concludes that the campaign (“defamatory”) against it is a campaign against the entire Syrian rebellion, since JFS and like-minded groups are now the backbone of the insurgency. Al-Qaeda’s campaign was to make the Syrian revolution and its own forces synonymous; they evidently feel they have succeeded and will claim it in public, though the claim, if believed, would lead to the cut-off of resources for the Syrian opposition and the near-universal support of the international community for the suppression of the insurgency.
A comprehensive evaluation and analysis of events
Everyone has read or heard about the conflict between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Jaysh al-Mujahideen primarily, in addition to several other factions. We will try to explore this issue in some detail while referring to the statement published by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham concerning these events. Looking at the statement published by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham we can conclude that the overall message, whether we agree or not, is their desire to protect the course of the Syrian revolution. They clearly are not after power or authority and they are not seeking to annihilate other factions. They mainly address the political negotiations [in Astana], which seek the surrender of the Syrian opposition, and point towards the fall of Aleppo, a scenario which must not repeat. After the fall of Aleppo all eyes were set on Idlib, so it is actually not strange that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham took preventive measures to strengthen the weak spots that could be penetrated.
Let us look at the statement of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham concerning the conflict. The statement starts with:
The blessed Syrian revolution is passing through a dangerous slope which threatens the path that wants to reach, its goal of toppling the Nusayri (Alawi) regime and its allies. The projects of reconciliations and peace agreements today are plain and obvious, the conferences and negotiations are trying to deviate the course of the revolution towards reconciliations with the criminal regime and surrendering the country after all that has been sacrificed in the past six years. On the other hand, we have the lesson of Aleppo, a harsh lesson from which we must take heed. We must not let this repeat again. As some factions refrained from supporting Aleppo for years, their participation was weak; it did not match the proportion of these factions and their numbers on paper, and their defence lines were empty.
One thing which was obvious about the campaign is that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham was very controlled and balanced, looking at the amount of casualties. It is obvious that they did not launch their campaign for power, they did not force Jaysh al-Mujahideen to join Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, and they stated that they did not have the intention to fight, kill, or annihilate Jaysh al-Mujahideen. This explains why they did not launch an all-out assault against them with heavy weaponry and martyrdom operations, unlike the assault of ISIS against the [rebel] factions, [where the Islamic State] even used acid to burn their faces in Deir Ezzor and chemical shells in Marea, in addition to the reckless suicide bombings and bloody beheadings. This assault is in no way comparable.
When you decide to confront corruption one must weigh the benefits and harms of this confrontation, as the confrontation must not lead to a larger corruption than the one you are trying to confront. And there must be a balance of wisdom between softness and harshness. We have seen how ISIS failed in this respect, but other factions failed as well. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is actually the one group that has been and is successful in outweighing between harms and benefits, and balancing between softness and harshness when confronting corruption.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham could have been a lot harsher in their assault if they wanted, they clearly did not pull everything out of their arsenal against their opponents. It was a balanced neutralization campaign similar to the campaigns against Harakat Hazm (The Steadfastness Movement), Jabhat Thuwar al-Suriya (The Syria Revolutionaries’ Front), Division 30, Jaysh al-Thuwar (The Army of Revolutionaries), and the New Syrian Forces. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham balances between softness and harshness and knows very well when to use the appropriate amount of softness and the appropriate amount of harshness. This is because they realize and clarify that they are dealing with multiform people, they are Muslims mixed with corrupt people and hypocrites, while some of them are apostates. They can not treat them as one entity, that is why they have to stay careful and balanced when dealing with them.
Thinking about the timing of the campaign it becomes clear that the campaign is coordinated with the ongoing Astana negations. It is because of these negotiations in addition to the inactive fronts against the regime that the soldiers of Jaysh al-Mujahideen were not willing to defend their bases with their lives, they largely surrendered as they lost their trust in their faction and its leadership. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham neutralized several bases in Western Aleppo and Northern Idlib without a drop of blood. We witnessed several defections in Jaysh al-Mujahideen and the deputy even dissolved the faction; when the general leader Abu Bakr denied this, his deputy replied that he should not deny anything while he was staying in Turkey and in Saudi Arabia. This embarrassing exposure showed that the leader of this faction is more occupied with foreign powers and their interest instead of the Syrian revolution and his own soldiers.
Another thing we notice is that several major factions stayed neutral in the conflict; they did not choose any side. This tells us something very important: this tells we are not dealing with a clear-cut assault of oppression by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, unlike the deceiving picture portrayed in the media. If Jabhat Fatah al-Sham was the obvious oppressor and Jaysh al-Mujahideen the obvious oppressed party then the factions would not announce their neutral position. No, they would side with the oppressed against the oppressor, like they did in the case of ISIS. It has even been reported that several elements within other factions supported the campaign. This would not be the first time that the factions supported a campaign of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham to clear the arena of corruption, as they supported previous similar campaigns by Jabhat Nusra. Many factions were on board when Jabhat Nusra countered the corrupt factions in the past, and nearly everyone was on board when Jabhat Nusra countered the deviant corruption of the Khawarij. So why would the current campaign be any different this time one might ask?
The second point in the statement addresses the issue of the failed merger. When someone accuses Jabhat Fatah al-Sham of creating division he must not forget that they were prepared to merge with all of these factions only a couple of weeks ago. Abu Muhammad al-Jolani [real name: Ahmad al-Shara] was even prepared to give up his leadership to Abu Amar al-Umar [real name: Ali al-Umar], the general leader of Ahrar al-Sham. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham even cut its organizational ties with al-Qaeda for the sake of unity in Syria, and Abu Muhammad al-Jolani showed his face for the sake of unity, to gain trust, while exposing himself to the threat of U.S. drone airstrikes in doing so. Yet the factions refused to merge, it was not Jabhat Fatah al-Sham who refused to unite. So the outcome of what we are witnessing now of conflicts and division is due to the refusal of the factions to merge. We can all agree that the refusal to merge is the root cause for the division we are witnessing now, and that a merger could have prevented the current division and turmoil.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham continued the statement with the following remark:
We strived because of this destructive reality, and to prevent the scenario of Aleppo from repeating, and the scenario of the Southern Front, and to advance our situation to a political and military entity worthy or representing the blessed revolution, and honour its sacrifices and its struggle, and a unification of decrees which strengthen its rod, we strived from this perspective to a merger with welcoming truthful hearts. We leaned towards our brothers from other factions, we removed all the obstacles we were capable of, and we surrendered some of our personal rights which we deserve based on capability and merit, so we walked the path towards Fatah al-Sham and we stepped back from authority, desired by the gathering, to others from the factions, while we called towards an overall merger which does not exclude anyone. Except that some were not on the level of the situation and the danger of the phase which were are passing through, so the pens and verdicts were let loose which forbade the merger with us and said that it was suicide. And their motives were their keenness to preserve the channels of aid and their obedience to the threats and pressure of their backers, some went even further and requested from us to dissolve our group and leave our members and bases.
The same scholarly verdicts which spoiled the unity and merger are the same verdicts which exaggerated the conflict between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Jaysh al-Mujahideen. These verdicts and the leaders of the factions who called for a general mobilization is what caused the conflict to escalate. There were no verdicts and no calls for a general mobilization for the people of Aleppo or for the besieged city of Wadi al-Barada. More than 80,000 civilians, 65% of them women, are trapped in besieged Wadi al-Barada as they are bombed for more than thirty days despite the so-called ceasefire, they ran out of food and denied any aid, medicine and food, even their water resources are bombed and destroyed. They are without medical treatment since their medical centre is bombed by the Assad militias. Yet there are no active noteworthy fronts by the factions to pressure the regime, rather they continue to uphold a fake ceasefire and they are attending negotiations in Astana while the regime is bombing and starving the Syrian civilians in especially Wadi al-Barada. Where are the general mobilizations for them?
A ceasefire and negotiations with the regime while calling for a general mobilization against Jabhat Fatah al-Sham? The leader of Ahrar al-Sham Abu Amar al-Umar and the leader of Suqour al-Sham Abu Issa [al-Shaykh] for example called for a general mobilization, but we did not see such heated calls when the people in Aleppo were bombed, besieged, starved and slaughtered for months. It is clear that there are leaders and scholars who want to capitalize on the conflict as they used this opportunity to ventilate their hidden grudges. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham did not have the intention of fighting against Jaysh al-Mujahideen, rather they succeeded in convincing them of the treachery of their leaders thought debates and negotiations as most of them surrendered, they did not fire a shot and no blood was spilled. Rather it was actually Jabhat Fatah al-Sham who got attacked as several of their men got killed in a treacherous twist of events.
Despite the exaggerations in the media, not even one casualty was reported from Jaysh al-Mujahideen or from Jabhat al-Shamiya [The Levant Front] and the operations room of Rashideen, as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham neutralized and dissolved their factions in Western Aleppo and Northern Idlib. The members of the dissolved factions will be gathered and they will choose a leader themselves. The only casualties that were reported caused by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham were from Suqour al-Sham because they attacked them, killing and imprisoning several members from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. And Jaysh al-Islam even opened fire on Jabhat Fatah al-Sham with heavy weaponry.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham stated in an additional statement:
An important clarification: During the dispute between us and Jaysh al-Mujahideen on Monday 23 January 2017, we were surprised by the statements of the leader of Suqour al-Sham, Abu Issa al-Shaykh who described us as Khawarij and called to eradicate us unjustly and he mobilized his convoys and attacked some of our bases which caused the death of six of our men, knowing that we did not approach them and we did not start anything with Suqour al-Sham whatsoever. And in Ras al-Hasn Jaysh al-Islam approached the village and moved its tanks and soldiers towards it, knowing that we did not attack them, and there were no fights or clashes in the region to begin with.
We cannot ignore the baffling speed with which Islamic verdicts were published criticizing Jabhat Fatah al-Sham before the facts and details were actually known. A total of at least six verdicts were published by various scholarly counsels; including the verdict concerning Jund al-Aqsa. Two verdicts from the Syrian Islamic Council were published in one day, and two from the Shura Council of the People of Knowledge in Syria, one verdict signed by thirty-three scholars including Abu Basir al-Tartusi [real name: Abdul Munim Halima], and another signed by four scholars including Abdullah al-Muhaysini. Nearly all of them were published in one morning. This raises legitimate questions. How can they be so fast with verdicts when it concerns the matters of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, while we are still waiting for weeks on just one verdict that explains the legal position of participating in the EUPHRATES SHIELD Operation in al-Bab now that Turkey has openly declared that they are cooperating with Russia? As the scholars clearly set the strict condition that rebels are only allowed to participate if Turkey does not coordinate and cooperate its strikes with the U.S., let alone the occupying, murderous Russians in Syria.
The Syrian Islamic Council based in Turkey, the same counsel that published a verdict forbidding any merger with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, even passed the reasonable boundaries of condemnation and criticism as they called the leadership of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham renegade Khawarij, and that it is forbidden to join them or stay in their ranks, that their members should defect, and that those who are killed under their banner will enter Hellfire, and that the factions should unite in one entity against them, and that the Syrian people should go out on the streets and demonstrate against them and besiege their bases, etc. They called them Khawarij even after Jabhat Fatah al-Sham declared their innocence from extremism and proofed this numerous times, as they distanced themselves from both ISIS and Jund al-Aqsa. The [Syrian Islamic] Council was able to find excuses for those who participate in the EUPHRATES SHIELD Operation and those who participate in the Astana negations, but they were not able to find one excuse for the decision and opinion of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. No, the judgment of Khawarij was already ready on the table before the facts and details were even known.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham published a very balanced and sharp response to the Syrian Islamic Council, which shows the level of noble manners and respect they have for scholars, even if they incite against them and call them Khawarij, let alone if they merely disagree with them. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham called on them to listen to their side of the story, as they must know the details of the situation and they cannot understand these details from the outside of Syria. They said:
With your influence, you were supposed to come down to the arena in a quest to research and investigate before you publish verdicts, and we have called you—and our invitation is still open—to sit down with us to listen to us as we explain and evaluate the situation of the arena, its weakness and the dangers that are threatening it. Especially since we have discovered that, from more than one perspective, the Council has some very mistaken understandings about us and our wishes and legal directives, the most prominent evidence being this published statement in which we are compared with the Khawarij of ISIS. This is a claim which denies history, it is an unjust comparison and judgment. As it is known to everyone that we broke with these people methodologically and organizationally.
How can Jabhat Fatah al-Sham all of a sudden become Khawarij within a couple of hours because of one conflict, of which the facts and details were not even clear at the time of the verdict? Furthermore, this Council is not even based in Syria so how would they know the facts and details of this incident with such speed even before the rest of the Syrians knew them? This verdict reeks of prejudice. One of the main characteristics of the Khawarij is their unjust [use of] takfir (excommunication), and nowhere did Jabhat Fatah al-Sham make takfir on Jaysh al-Mujahideen, not their soldiers nor their leaders. One of the many accusations is that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is influenced by foreign Salafi-jihadist scholars and theorists—while all the jurists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham are based in Syria itself, not in Turkey or any other foreign country. So, those who depend on such Councils are actually the ones who are influenced by foreign authorities. In addition to the fact that the overall members of these scholarly Councils are anonymous.
When Jaysh al-Islam transgressed against Jaysh al-Fustat and Faylaq al-Rahman, we did not see this condemnation, with such speed, let alone the label of Khawarij being uttered, while over 350 Mujahideen were killed in the infighting in a plain and obvious act of transgression for power and authority by Jaysh al-Islam in al-Ghuta. We did not see these verdicts and we did not hear the leaders calling for a general mobilization to eradicate them like we did when it concerned Jund al-Aqsa or the during the limited campaign of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. When the Free Syrian Army clashed with the Levant Front in which many youths were killed in Northern Syria we likewise did not see these verdicts and these calls. So these dubious positions actually only prove the conspiracy against Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
The verdict of the Syrian Islamic Council that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham are Khawarij is clearly setting the precedent for the factions to cooperate with Turkey or even Russia and the U.S. to fight against Jabhat Fatah al-Sham like they did and still do against ISIS in Northern Syria. This is the same Council that did not yet explain the position regarding the Turkish-Russian cooperation in al-Bab and the legal ruling for the factions on participating in such an alliance. They did not yet explain this position, like several other scholars and jurists didn’t, because they are caught between two fires; the fire of reliance on aid and pressure from the foreign backers, and the fire of exposure and embarrassment in front of everyone.
There is of course no problem if the scholars disagree with the decision of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, there is no problem if they said that this campaign is wrong and that they are committing a sin which deserves punishment in Hellfire; such a disagreement is valid. But it is truly amazing that this decision of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham to neutralize the corruption of Jaysh al-Mujahideen, with minimum casualties and minimum bloodshed, is compared to the bloody onslaught against the factions and infighting caused by ISIS after they declared their fictional State in al-Sham (Syria). How can these two be compared? The defamatory campaign against Jabhat Fatah al-Sham—whether they were right or not, whether they made a mistake or not—by everyone who seeks to destroy the Syrian revolution, is obvious. Because they and other Islamic fundamentalist factions are the remaining backbone of the armed opposition against the Assad regime.
Like the independent media activist Musa al-Umar said:
You demonize Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and say that they are ISIS, brother shame on you for calling them ISIS, shame on you. Did you see Jabhat Fatah al-Sham dress someone in orange overalls and behead him and slaughter him like a sheep in a video publication? Did you see someone defect from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham as they chased him and killed and slaughter him? Did you see anyone get killed or slaughtered by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in this way? Jabhat Fatah al-Sham has made mistakes, but people must know, and those who treat the people like donkeys, that the backbone that remains from the armed opposition forces of the Syrian revolution consists of fundamentalists; they are the backbone of the armed forces. And the one who does not know that is truly struck with foolishness.
This generally known fact is also something Jabhat Fatah al-Sham highlights in their statement:
It is not hidden for any truthful mujahid (jihadist) in the domestic or those who follow the Syrian arena in the foreign—and we do not say this to outshine anyone rather we are being realistic—what Jabhat Fatah al-Sham represents on every level: military, judicially, and in serviceability. Fatah al-Sham represent nearly two thirds of the military offense and defence force, and they hold the topmost active defensive posts against the Nusayri (Alawi) regime and the Rawafid (Iranian proxy Shi’i) militias.
We have witnessed a series of local and international exposures since the revolution in Syria, just like the Prophet said about The End Times—a war in Syria is one of these signs. He said: “When the Signs start to come, they will come fast, like a string of beads falling one after the other.” We cannot deny that the fall of Aleppo, the failed merger, the Astana peace talks, the increased U.S. airstrikes, and the Turkish-Russian alliance has exposed many facts, and the recent developments after the conflict between Jaysh al-Mujahideen and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is another episode in long series of exposures.
As Jabhat Fatah al-Sham clearly stated:
With the foiled attempts to merge came the coalition airstrikes. Fatah al-Sham was hit in more than one position and gathering, and they targeting several active leaders, in a clear message to isolate and then fight us, at a time when some factions maintain solid relations with America, the guardian of crime. And during these events the Astana meetings appeared, the conference which is overseen by the occupier Russians, and they forced the factions to attend under a humiliating ceiling for the revolution and jihad. From overthrowing the criminal regime, to negotiations and agreements to a ceasefire and entering humanitarian aid. And the factions participated in this conference, which states that its wants to implement a democratic state and an agreement to fight and isolate Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. The matter was overtaking the arena and the opinions concerning it, beginning with the conference of political gambles, then bargaining over us, and agreeing on fighting us, in addition to exposing our backs to the international coalition.
Instead of calling for the eradication of factions, or a general mobilization against them, or making takfir on them, and so on, we have rather seen a very balanced position and reasonable tone from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham towards the factions, and a strong message towards the foreign powers who sought to sabotage the Syrian revolution from the very beginning. And because this campaign was targeted against the foreign powers, more than anyone, we have seen an uncontrolled media defamation and a massive spread of misinformation and lies.
As [JFS] stated:
Because of all of the aforementioned it was necessary for us to foil the conspiracy and confront this before it is ignited, to stitch the arena and prevent its collapse; military with stitches on the fronts and politically by cutting off the imported projects and foiling them and pulling them down and preventing them from passing. Know that we do not make takfir on these factions—not the leaders nor the soldiers—and we have ordered our soldiers to be careful not to spill any sacred blood. Rather, the aim was cutting off the project—not to fight or kill, and not to make takfir and legalize [the taking of] blood—so that everyone who tries to bargain over that which he does not own knows that he can expect this as a natural result for what his political masters abroad are seeking. And we say to the abroad: those from which you are trying to buy the sacrifices of the revolution of the people of Syria, do not own them.
It is not fair to let those who represent the factions, to first profit from the years of sacrifices made by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham on the ground, only to back-stab them in conferences and negotiations as they bargain over them. This campaign against Jaysh al-Mujahideen is a clear message to everyone who wants to use Jabhat Fatah al-Sham as a political bargaining chip. The poor Syrians who sacrifice their lives and wage jihad are likewise used as numbers on paper who increase the aid and fill their pockets. This aid and these resources which they gained on the backs of the Syrian people are the property of the Syrians, and not their own personal property. They became known for their corruption among the local people, and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham chose to delay a confrontation with them because this could lead towards serious harms for the jihad, but they could not delay this confrontation any longer as the threats and dangers for the Syrian jihad and revolution grew bigger than these possible harms.
Even the remaining factions agree on this but they refuse to confront them because this will anger the foreign backers, while a general mobilization against Jabhat Fatah al-Sham on the other hand will please the foreign backers. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, however, succeeded in neutralizing these factions with minimum casualties and losses, and everyone who claims otherwise cannot bring any proof for his exaggerated claims. Changing an evil with such wisdom and with such care and delicacy is a true talent; very few people are able to do this.
If we were to look at the attempt of Ahrar al-Sham to eradicate Jund al-Aqsa before they joined Jabhat Fatah al-Sham—until they left recently—then we would discover that it cost Ahrar al-Sham hundreds of their men between those who were killed, wounded and imprisoned, while many of them left the jihad all together due to the infighting. In addition, much of rural Hama fell to the regime. Furthermore, breaking the siege on Aleppo got delayed by twenty days because of their reckless attempt to eradicate and annihilate Jund al-Aqsa, until it was eventually impossible to break the siege on Aleppo as the regime got enough the time and opportunity to fortify the siege on the city. Compare this failed attempt of Ahrar al-Sham, with so many losses, to the attempt of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham to dissolve Jaysh al-Mujahideen. Ahrar al-Sham did not seem to care about the lives of their own men and those of Jund al-Aqsa. Moreover, they and other factions did not learn from this bitter experience as they still call for eradications and general mobilizations against Jund al-Aqsa and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
The attempt of Ahrar al-Sham to eradicate Jund al-Aqsa despite the many harms it caused for the jihad and revolution was not seen as a mistake, rather they were supported in this by scholars and factions. Yet we do not see the same support now that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham has tried and succeeded in dissolving factions known for their corruption, with minimum casualties and harms from both parties. Until they got rid of these corrupt factions who exploit the suffering of the Syrian people; factions which are unable and unwilling to hold the lines against the regime, putting in dangers the lives of millions of Syrian Muslims.
One of the major problems in Syria is that factions are able to commit injustice and crimes while getting away with it without any accountability. The Levant Front left 150 defensive positions in Aleppo, their soldiers watched as Aleppo fell, without any accountability. This has to stop. This is why Jabhat Fatah al-Sham decided to confront these factions, and if they did not do so this could have cost the lives of millions of Syrian Muslims. And they achieved in a couple of hours what others could not achieve in years, and without major losses and harms to the revolution and jihad. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham made a decision based on strategic insight and sincere concerns, while knowing that this would place them at the centre of a witch hunt and a defamation campaign, but this is not the first sacrifice they made for the Syrian revolution.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham concluded their statement with a message to the soldiers and leaders of the factions. Again, it was very balanced, between softness and harshness, as they call for unity and warn against deviation:
We say to our brothers, the soldiers from the factions who shared our jihad and trenches, what is being discussed of decrees in Astana and others to fight and isolate us is not only empty talk, rather it is the beginning of a dangerous phase which will have negative consequences on the arena. And be careful that you don’t become tools without realizing it for a project desired by the enemies of the revolution and jihad.
As for the leaders of the factions: We know that some of you are led by deviant verdicts and ideological terrorism carried out by those who—perhaps with good intentions—pass decrees which you will regret in the end, but regret will not be of any benefit at that point. Be patient for your religion and return to jihad and fight, and push away from you the devils of politics and their whispers, and you will not find us except to be brothers to you, who support you and defend you like we have promised.
Finally: We call upon all the factions to take active and honest measures, which are translated in positions and deeds, removed far away from the language of official statements, crowned by a statement of deeds which will benefit the arena. And in which its people agree on the establishment of one Sunni entity united politically and military, based on the shari’a, which poses the decree of peace and war, which protects our people and safeguards their religion and sanctuaries. We stress the importance of hastening to cooperate and participate to achieve this goal. And we are completely prepared to implement and abide by it.
 Jabhat al-Nusra dismantled SRF in October/November 2014; Hazm in March 2015; and Division 30 in September 2015. The clashes with Jaysh al-Thuwar and the New Syrian Forces (NSF) were a part of the same battle as the one with Division 30. Division 30 supplied most of the recruits to the Pentagon’s disastrous train-and-equip program that struggled for recruits because it was only intended against the Islamic State—a separate thing to the much more successful CIA-run “covert” program, which allows groups to fight the pro-Assad coalition and which still has 50,000 vetted rebels in the field. The DoD-supplied Division 30 fighters were repackaged as the New Syrian Forces and re-entered Syria in two batches: 30 July and 19 September 2015, being attacked by al-Nusra both times. A number of NSF fighters scrambled under the banner of Jaysh al-Thuwar, which had been actively engaged in combat with al-Nusra for some time. A number of Jaysh al-Thuwar fighters defected and a number quit the war altogether; the remnants were taken into the Syrian Democratic Forces—the PYD/PKK-dominated umbrella group that is the primary ground asset of the U.S.-led Coalition’s Operation INHERENT RESOLVE against the Islamic State. Some other fighters from Division 30 allegedly joined Liwa Suqour al-Jabal.
 Jaysh al-Islam has suppressed numerous factions in East Ghuta, a number of them Islamic State agents or sympathizers—it is thanks to JAI that IS’s presence in the capital is so weak—and a number of others under the banner, familiar to JFS, of fighting corruption. In the specific instance referenced here of the clashes between JAI on one side and Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaysh al-Fustat on the other, which broke out in a major way in April 2016, it is not actually clear that the spark came from JAI. The Russians murdered JAI’s leader, Zahran Allush on Christmas Day 2015. Allush’s authority had been essentially unchallenged as the leader of East Ghuta after a long period of political-military machinations; now a jockeying for power began, as Aron Lund lays out in a paper for The Century Foundation. The most important move prior to the outbreak of intra-rebel violence was al-Ittihad al-Islami li Ajnad al-Sham placing its troops in the Ghuta enclave—though not outside—under the command of Faylaq al-Rahman, a clear attempt to challenge JAI’s monopolization of political-military power. Shortly afterwards, Jaysh al-Fustat was formed from a merger of Jabhat al-Nusra, which is small in Ghuta, and Fajr al-Umma. Tensions escalated thereafter, as Lund explains: JAI and FAR contested who got Ajnad’s bases after the merger; arrests were made by both JAI and FAR; JAI’s religious officials did little to calm the situation; and on 28 March 2016 a Sufi cleric with FAR, Khaled Tafour, was struck down, and FAR aired a video of a captive they claim was the perpetrator who said he was part of a JAI assassination team. There is no doubt that JAI seized FAR’s bases in Shayfuniya on 18 April, but JAI claims this as a response to FAR attacks in Zamalka and Arbeen, and it was FAR and al-Fustat who launched the major phase of the conflict on 28 April, overrunning JAI bases in Jisreen, Zamalka, Hammuriya, and Ayn Terma.
 This dualistic quality to al-Qaeda’s affiliates has been there from the start, what might be called “glocalism“: a global project framed in local terms—the latter enabling a population to be socialized into the latter. In Syria, al-Qaeda presents itself as synonymous with the revolution and speaks in pseudo-nationalistic terms on behalf of a Syrian population that it sees as a base and shield for the launching or foreign attacks into the medium-term and ultimately as just one province of a restored caliphate.
 This actually is a solid point: just as Ahrar’s failure to challenge the siege of Aleppo was a good indicator of its true strength—and (lack of) independence from Turkey—so its losses when it came to a direct confrontation with Jund al-Aqsa provided further evidence of Ahrar’s true capabilities.