Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani), the leader of the Syrian jihadi group, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), released an audio speech, entitled, “Their Plot Will Not Harm You At All” or “Not The Least Harm Will Their Cunning Do To You” [Ali Imran (3): 120], on 16 January 2018. The speech is a continuation of themes HTS—even under its previous names, Jabhat al-Nusra and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham—has used, namely that it saw through the “peace processes” from the beginning as a conspiracy against the revolution, and that only it has the will and capacity to fulfil the desires of those Syrians who want to be free of Bashar al-Asad’s tyrannical regime. The recent insurgent counter-offensive in Idlib is taken by HTS as vindication, and as an opportunity to draw what’s left of the northern rebellion out of Turkey’s orbit and under its influence. A pro-HTS Telegram channel put out a transcript of the speech, which is reproduced below with some syntactical edits.
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We are facing a critical phase, due to the peace conferences in which some opposition factions are participating. We constantly repeated, warning against attempts of hijack the Syrian revolution, from the beginning.
The most dangerous of those [conferences] is the so-called Astana [process], that we rejected in its entirety. While a lot of people blamed us for that [stance at the time], many are now supporting what we said about it and have done during the Astana talks.
The so-called Astana talks succeeded in conferring legitimacy on the Russia occupation and its place as part of a political solution and even a “peace guarantor” for stopping the criminal Asad regime’s atrocities. Russia, along with Iran, succeeded in forcing many opposition factions to cease fighting against Asad regime on the fronts, even making some of the brothers in the opposition start media campaigns against Tahrir al-Sham when they started offensives. Offensives against the Asad regime became a “criminal act” for them.
There were even cases where the opposition sent intelligence details about our battles to the enemies. All of this happened while the Asad regime continued with its non-stop military operations. Then, the de-escalation zones were formed via an agreement to divide the North [of Syria] into Turkish and Russian spheres of influence. The so-called “agreement” included a complete surrender of the areas east of the railway, which were placed outside the de-escalation zones, as we saw in the leaked agreement maps.
The Astana talks agreement just gave the Asad regime and its allies the right attack and recapture territory. We rejected it all. We rejected the agreement, and we communicated our position to Turkey, as well as to the opposition groups. Some in the opposition tried to make the mujahideen withdraw from those areas [that Astana proposed to give to the regime] in peace. We rejected the deal, which unfortunately other armed groups agreed to.
All of this cost us several mujahideen and more than 200,000 families were forcibly displaced as a result of it. It was they [the civilians] who paid the price for the recklessness of those who agreed to the Astana talks.
Astana also included [an agreement] setting up Turkish checkpoints across the [Idlib] region. We rejected it because it had no guarantees that those areas would not be given to Asad regime easily via [subsequent] deals. We also rejected it because it would make the jihad and fighting spirit weak, perhaps even making it more difficult to defend the fronts.
We looked to minimize the costs and prevent a war that would damage all of us. We reached a compromise with Turkey, which infuriated the Asad regime and its allies, who was counting on us to start a war against Turkey in Idlib. The enemies saw that this plan didn’t work, so after that, they came up with a worse plan. In October, they used the Daesh khawarij members and weapons in the countryside of eastern Hama. The move by Daesh cost us several mujahideen, plus material losses.
It was the main reason Asad regime could advance quickly in those areas, while some opposition factions turned a blind eye to the situation. The Asad regime has continued its military campaign there. The battles have now lasted more than 100 days. We are relaying details to clarify the situation to our people in Syria.
In recent days, opposition factions have joined the offensive against the Asad regime, which we welcome and appreciate, considering it to be better to liberate new areas, even if the Asad regime manages to re-occupy them, because it has revived the will of the mujahideen to fight.