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Syria rebels form new
Qalamoun coalition

Several factions operating in western Qalamoun along Lebanon’s border announced Wednesday the establishment Saraya Ahl al-Sham.

Rebels in Qalamoun. (Twitter/Nusra Front)

BEIRUT – Embattled rebels in Syria’s Qalamoun have formed a new coalition following Hezbollah’s blistering offensive in the mountainous region in the early summer.

 

Several factions operating in western Qalamoun along Lebanon’s border announced Wednesday the establishment Saraya Ahl al-Sham (People of Sham Brigades), a name which closely resembles the extended name of the Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahl al-Sham.)

 

“The course of events has shown that it is necessary to unify ranks and form an entity in which all names are fused, in to which all leaderships are dissolved and in which all fighters are gathered under one name and one leadership,” the participating factions announced in a statement.

 

“Accordingly, God almighty has honored most of western Qalamoun’s factions by… fully integrating [them] under the name ‘Saraya Ahl al-Sham.’”

 

The statement also noted that “Abu Muwaffaq al-Shami” had been appointed as Saraya Ahl al-Sham’s Commander in Chief and that “Abu Mohsen al-Qalamouni” had been appointed as the formation’s military commander.

 

In another similarity to Al-Nusra Front rhetoric, the statement’s conclusion stressed that the new formation “is independent and has no foreign allegiance to any side, actor, council or party.”

 

The new rebel coalition comes as a successor to the Nusra-dominated Army of Conquest-Qalamoun, which was routed by Hezbollah in its summer military campaign on the remote mountainous area.

 

Hezbollah—which launched its offensive on May 4—swept through a series of strategic mountaintops along the Lebanese border, pushing rebels back to two small pockets of territory outside the Syrian town of Qara and the Lebanese border town of Arsal.

 

Uniting rebels, working with Nusra

 

Although Saraya Ahl al-Sham heavily emphasized that it aims to unite the numerous bands of rebels operating in Qalamoun, its ties with Nusra—the dominant group in the region—remain murky.

 

“After consecutive and intensive meetings between the factions, it was agreed to create a new structure to rally around and close ranks,” a spokesperson for the small rebel coalition Wa’tasimu bi Hablillah told Dubai-based Al-Aan TV.

 

Zakaria al-Shami also said that “a unified shura council that includes members of the factions” had been formed.

 

According to Al-Aan, these steps came after numerous calls by Qalamoun residents “for the unification of military factions and [their] operation as a single entity, especially after the decline of Army of Conquest-Qalamoun.”

 

Shami explained the difference between Army of Conquest-Qalamoun and the new formation, claiming the former was “an operations room [set up] to organize work, not a military force.”

 

“[Its] role was limited to directing the factions according to available military experience,” he said.

 

“Saraya Ahl al-Sham is based on the unification of the factions in one body under one leadership.”

 

The new coalition brings together the Cling to the Rope of God Gathering (Wa'tasimu), Liwa al-Ghuraba, Men of Qalamoun Brigade, Western Qalamoun Gathering, Al-Qastal Martyrs’ Brigades, Qalamoun Shield Brigade, Nabek Martyrs’ Brigade, Ibn Taymiyyah Brigade, Qalamoun Liberation Brigades, Bakhaa Martyrs, Martyr Abu Jaafar Brigade, Martyr Ali Diyab Brigade and the United in the Love of God Brigade.

 

Interestingly, the Nusra Front is not an official member, yet, of Saraya Ahl al-Sham.

 

However, a source told the pro-opposition Enab Baladi outlet that the new grouping has “good” relations with Al-Nusra Front in the area and that most of the factions involved worked with the Al-Qaeda affiliate in the Army of Conquest-Qalamoun operations room.

 

Start of operations

 

The Saraya Ahl al-Sham has yet to start its operations, however rebel spokesperson Zakaria al-Shami said the group would soon launch offensives.

 

“Operations will begin at the [appropriate] time and we hope to maintain complete secrecy regarding this matter,” he told Al-Aan TV.

 

“As [we have seen], the pre-emptive strikes and past attrition operations that we launched have proved effective.”

 

“We hope that we have achieved an advance with regard to unification and working towards a new phase.”

 

He concluded that the factions hope their new alliance will “be the beginning of a true liberation of Qalamoun’s towns and villages.”

Rebels in Qalamoun. (Twitter/Nusra Front)

After consecutive and intensive meetings between the factions, it was agreed to create a new structure to rally around and close ranks.

  • WVD

    I Have another group who wants to become member of this new star alliance: The Lunatics of the Victorious God. Virgins in heaven: Watch out there are more of these nice guys to come.

    October 1, 2015