Leader of former al-Qaida affiliate in Syria endorses Turkey’s threat to Syrian Kurds

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani said on Monday that he endorses Turkey’s goal to control the east of the Euphrates.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani said on Monday that he endorses Turkey’s goal to control the east of the Euphrates. However, he did not mention that the HTS would join such an offensive.

In an interview with Amjad news agency, Jolani described the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who Turkey says has close ties to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as “an enemy of the revolution,” and said the HTS endorses the liberation of “areas in the East of the Euphrates.”

The Turkish government continues to threaten to invade the East of the Euphrates that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) control, which includes the YPG.

Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the PKK, a claim the SDF denies, in turn, accusing Ankara of supporting extremist groups such as the HTS which the United States, Turkey, and Russia list as a terrorist group.

On Thursday, the HTS forced Turkish-backed factions to accept its control over Idlib.

“The main reason for any intra-factional conflict that can occur within the HTS arena is the fragmentation, dispersion, and the multiplicity of factions and projects carried in one geographic area,” Jolani told Amjad news.

Regarding the fate of Idlib, the extremist group’s leader said Russia and Iran do not need to enter the areas of Daraa, Ghouta, and Homs as they “were not controlled by HTS, but by the moderate factions.”

According to Sam Heller, the International Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst on Non-State Armed Groups, Jolani’s endorsement of a Turkish offensive in northern Syria does not mean the HTS will join such an operation.

However, he noted that the HTS leader “is making clear he has no problem with intervention and wouldn’t stand in the way.”

Wassim Nasr, a France 24 specialist on jihadi movements, agrees with this assessment.

Nasr told Kurdistan 24 that Jolani made the comments to avoid hostility with the Turks on the one hand, and, on the other hand, “to appease his own men who originate from this region.”

“It’s more a justification rather than a full-fledged support,” he added.

According to Nasr, Jolani is trying to play a more diplomatic role and avoid confrontation with Turkey after he was able to eliminate Ankara’s proxies in Idlib, a region Turkey was not able to protect.

“He will say the minimum in order not to be [confrontational] with the Turks, especially, because he has the upper-hand in Idlib.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Damascus is responsible for Idlib, although Turkey had established military observation points in the province in coordination with the HTS and Russia since February 2018.

“If Idlib is a haven for terrorists, the responsibility for this rests with the [Syrian] regime and countries that support the regime,” he said in a press conference on Monday.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany