Nusra, FSA clash in south Syria

A young man was killed in the firefight that erupted in Daraa's Tafas.

Rebels in Tafas. (YouTube/Tafas Media Team)

BEIRUT – A Free Syrian Army-linked rebel group has briefly clashed with fighters from the Al-Nusra Front in Daraa in the latest sign of tension between Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate and the Southern Front coalition in southern Syria.


Both pro-rebel and pro-Damascus outlets reported on the firefight, which erupted early Tuesday in the town of Tafas, approximately 15 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital Daraa that the FSA-affiliated Southern Front failed to capture earlier in the summer.


“Violent clashes erupted in the opposition-controlled town of Tafas between the Al-Habib al-Mustafa Brigade and Nusra [after] a quarrel between the [two] turned into an armed clash that left one dead and several others wounded,” the pro-opposition Syria Solution outlet reported Wednesday.


Lebanese daily Al-Akbhar, which is close to Hezbollah, also covered the clash, saying that the “FSA-linked Al-Habib al-Mustafa Brigade” fought armed men from Nusra.


Tuesday’s fighting comes amid tense relations between the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the Southern Front coalition that reportedly maintains close ties with foreign powers seeking to depose the Assad regime.


The Southern Front on April 13 officially cut off ties with Nusra and in late June said that the Al-Qaeda-linked group was not participating alongside it in its Quneitra offensive.


Nusra and the Southern Front had previously butted heads in the Daraa al-Balad district of the provincial capital, as well as at the Nasib border crossing.


Despite the cut in ties, both sides reportedly fought together against the regime in its failed late April offensive on Busr al-Harir. 


Nusra and FSA supporters trade accusations


A post on the Tafas News Up To Date Facebook group that announced the death of a young man during the clashes sparked contentious accusations between supporters and opponents of the Nusra Front. 


“The young man from the town of Dael, Malek Mahmoud al-Kanakeri, was martyred after the clash that took place a short while ago in the town of Tafas,” the group said in a post, without specifying whether Kanakeri was a member of the Islamist group.

However, comments on the post by both Al-Nusra Front and FSA supporters suggest that Kanakeri was affiliated with Nusra and was killed in a shootout with local rebels.


One commenter, Abo Hmze Alhabib, accused Kanakeri of being a “Nusra Front member who was on a mission to spy on the [FSA] brigade.”


The commenter, who appeared to be an opponent of Nusra, added that Kanakeri had quarreled with a local rebel commander named Alaa Abu Nuqta, before leaving the area.


“Two hours later infiltrators arrived. They didn’t come [to reach] an understanding,” he said, adding that the Nusra members “began to open fire. There are witnesses and three injuries from Alaa’s brigade.”


“They [FSA members] defended themselves. By God, I wouldn’t say [he was a] martyr.”


However, a pro-Nusra commenter offered a different version of the events, saying that rebel commander Abu Nuqta’s group had attacked Kanakeri for unknown reasons.


“After being beaten up, the young man came to the town of Dael, to the Al-Nusra Front HQ, and informed the Emir,” Abu al-Ward claimed.


“They went by car to Tafas to find out why he was beaten up, and Abu Nuqta’s group opened fire on Nusra’s group,” he said.


“The young man Malek was shot in the stomach and the Emir and his companions withdrew,” Ward added.


“Two of them went to pull Malek with them and Abu Nuqta’s group fired over their heads. Then, General Abu Nuqta’s brother went over to Malek and opened fire [on his body] from head to toe.”


Another pro-Nusra commenter, Nawras Saeed, said that Kanakeri’s family, along with Nusra, were outraged by the young man’s death and had “put a price on the killer’s [head].”


The discussion on Facebook page’s comment thread quickly degenerated into a heated exchange of insults, with Nusra supporters calling the Tafas rebels “highway robbers.”

Rebels in Tafas. (YouTube/Tafas Media Team)

They [FSA members] defended themselves. By God, I wouldn’t say [he was a] martyr.