HTS chief issues warning as Idlib protests continue

Syrians in Idlib province have been protesting HTS rule since the beginning of the year [Getty]

The head of a Syria’s hardline Islamist Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) rebel group, Abu Mohammad Al-Jolani, on Wednesday issued a warning to demonstrators protesting against HTS’s rule.

HTS was formerly affiliated to Al-Qaeda and controls much of Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

HTS security forces accompanied by military fighters are on high alert in and around Idlib city, sources from the area told The New Arab’s Arabic edition Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

They have set up dozens of checkpoints and positions at entrances to the city and on roads leading to it and other major cities in Idlib province, the sources said.

Since the start of 2024, Idlib and the surrounding areas have seen protests against HTS’s practices – from torture in prisons to the monopolisation of the region’s economic and security administration.

Al-Araby Al-Jadeed’s sources said the protests against Al-Jolani continued in towns and villages in Idlib province such as Taftanaz, Binnish, and Maarrat Misrin.

In a meeting with several notables in Idlib, Al-Jolani said people were making “many legitimate demands”.

“We sat with all segments of society, and most of the demands were met as everyone witnessed,” he added, saying some demands remained and were still being worked on.

He alleged that the demands had recently “deviated from their true course and turned into a case of obstructing public interests”.

He said he had previously warned against “tampering with interests and common rules and crossing red lines, blocking roads, bothering people, using profanities, and carrying weapons in protests, for this situation has exceeded its normal limits”.

“In the past period, we have only used the language of dialogue and hastened to meet the people’s demands, but we will not tolerate any individual, assembly, party or faction that wants to harm the liberated [region],” he added, referring to areas controlled by HTS and more moderate Syrian rebel groups.

On Tuesday, HTS-affiliated forces dispersed a gathering in a protest tent in Idlib city with their hands and batons.

They fired shots into the air and removed the tent. They also beat demonstrators involved in a sit-in in front of the military court.

An activist in the protest movement against HTS told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that those involved in the sit-in decided not to return for fear of an escalation, “after HTS resorted to a security solution”.

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