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HTS… a means to achieve Russia and Turkey’s goals

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – Russian-Turkish dispute over Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has emerged recently, after Putin-Erdogan last meeting, in particular.

Russia insists on fighting the HTS as it is a terrorist group, while Turkey wants to rehabilitate it through merging it with the Syrian National Army (SNA) factions. This is obvious through the changes that the organization has adopted, most important of which is the leaders of it have started to appear in public in civil clothes.

Russia demands Turkey to activate the previous agreements and understandings in terms of reclaiming the M4 Highway, which means sending the Turkish-backed armed factions toward the northern countryside of Idlib and hand over the vicinity of the road which links the Syrian coast with Aleppo to the Syrian government.

However, Ankara rejects this because it may lead to the displacement of about half a million civilians to the camps which are not far from its southern border, and it complicates the issue of the northwest Syria.

Because of this dispute, even if it has not appeared directly to the public. The HTS for both Russia and Turkey is the point of disagreement, as each party wants to achieve its goals through it.

After the Russian-Turkish meeting in Sochi, and Russia’s stress that the terrorist threat must be ended, and that the HTS must be isolated, there are reports about a Turkish plan to merge it with the SNA in north Syria, in an attempt to mix the cards of the conflict.

Observers and politicians believe that the HTS, which controls areas in northwest Syria, is seeking to convince the international community that it has not been, as Washington describes it, “the largest hub for al-Qaeda in Syria since the events of September 11.”

Since mid-2018, the US has classified the HTS led by Abu Mohammad al-Jolani and every faction affiliated with it as a terrorist organization.

Ruling out the merge

Recently, the HTS has launched a violent attack on the sites and headquarters of the armed factions in the Jabal al-Turkman area, northeast of Latakia, and Jisr al-Shughur, west of Idlib, on the pretext that they are extremist factions.

However, it seems it has forgotten that it is still on the terrorist list, and that what it is doing, will not remove it from this list.

Analysts of the Syrian opposition-controlled areas in Idlib ruled out the success of Turkey’s attempt to merge the HTS within the SNA, with the aim of removing it from the terrorist list, describing the matter as almost impossible.

The official spokesman for the SNA and the Unified Command Room (Azm), Major Youssef al-Hammoud, denied the existence of a proposal for merging the military factions with the HTS.

Earlier this month, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov called on Turkey to speed up the achievement of the ultimate goal in Idlib, demanding an end to the issue of the HTS.

During a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukri, Lavrov said the terrorist threat is still exist in the de-escalation zone in Idlib. Rather, it is increasing in some places.

“The ultimate goal is to eliminate these terrorist groups. We adhere to this approach. The sooner Turkey achieves it, the better it is,” Lavrov added.

“Russia clearly confirms that the whole terms of the agreements between Putin and Erdogan must be implemented in order to isolate the terrorists, in particular the HTS, no matter how they try to change their clothes,” Lavrov stressed.

In mid-September, Senior religious of the HTS, Abdurrahman Attoun, appeared in an intellectual seminar sponsored by the Salvation Government in a new outfit, after taking off his traditional outfit, which he used to appear in the past years.

Attoun replaced his Arab dress, which was often in dark colors, with pants and a light shirt, and he appeared bareheaded without the traditional covering he used to wear. His beard hair was less dense and well-groomed.

It seems that Attoun aims, through his new outfit, to signal the beginning of a new phase of transformations, which is supposed to pay more attention to the details of the local community.

The HTS is an extremist faction that adopts the ideology of al-Qaeda organization, despite the announcement by its leader, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, in July 2016, its independence from al-Qaeda under popular pressure.

Aspiring to power

Al-Jolani seeks to end the jihadist groups present in Idlib, to prove to the Western community that he is fighting and combating militants in northwest Syria, Syrian politician Nasr al-Youssef told North Press.

Al-Youssef, who lives in the Russian capital, Moscow, added that what al-Jolani is doing “is nothing but an attempt to participate in the future power in Syria.”

Al-Jolani has recently proven that he is a pragmatic person who plays the game of interests, as he sees that things in Syria today are heading towards the ends, he said.

“We have recently found him dealing with the foreign press, changing his clothes, appearing in his original form and revealing his identity. All of these things are a prelude to securing a place in power in the future,” the politician noted.

Reporting by Bara’ al-Shami

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