Rebel allies fight each other
in east Damascus: monitor

The two most powerful Syrian rebel groups in the northeastern outskirts of Damascus have engaged in a firefight, according to the SOHR.

Zamalka. (Facebook/LensYoungdimashqi)

BEIRUT – The two most powerful Syrian rebel groups in the northeastern outskirts of Damascus have engaged in a firefight, according to an NGO monitoring the conflict in the war-torn country.


“Damascus’s eastern Ghouta is witnessing… continued unrest between Jaysh al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman after quarrelling between the two sides and fierce armed clashes,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday morning.


Activists working with the SOHR said that they witnessed fighters from Jaysh al-Islam—the largest faction in eastern Ghouta—surrounding positions in Zamalka, which is a Faylaq al-Rahman stronghold.


Meanwhile, Faylaq al-Rahman—which is considered the only other group capable of matching Jaysh al-Islam’s military presence—set up checkpoints on the roads connecting Hamouriya, Saqba, Irbin and Hazza.


The SOHR reported that the clashes had erupted after Jaysh al-Islam members tried to seize a building used by Faylaq al-Rahman in Zamalka. The latter group then expelled Jaysh al-Islam’s fighters from the building after which the two factions mobilized their forces.


“Fierce clashes proceeded to break out between the two sides. So far there has been no information regarding human losses,” the NGO added.


The Observatory’s activists reported that they had seen Jaysh al-Islam summoning reinforcements from the town of Douma amid continued tension and attempts by several factions operating in the area to resolve the dispute between the two rebel giants and calm the situation.


Neither Jaysh al-Islam nor Faylaq al-Rahman—both of which are part of the Unified Military Command of Eastern Ghouta—have issued any statements on the fighting, which comes two weeks after tensions mounted in the besieged area over a merger between Faylaq al-Rahman and a smaller Islamist group.


Although rebel groups in the area have not made any official comment on the incident, pro-opposition news outlets published accounts similar to that of the SOHR.


“The dispute between the two factions came after an attempt by Jaysh al-Islam to use one of the buildings under the control of Faylaq al-Rahman in the town of Zamelka for Jaysh al-Islam’s private military purposes,” Step News Agency reported Monday.


“Faylaq al-Rahman rejected this matter and expelled the Jaysh al-Islam members from the location. This prompted the latter to mobilize is forces on the outskirts of the town of Hamouriya, and Faylaq al-Rahman did the same,” the pro-rebel outlet further explained.


“Confrontations then flared up between the two sides. The agency was unable to confirm if human losses were incurred.”


Orient News, meanwhile, said that “light clashes” had erupted between the two largest factions operating in eastern Ghouta suburbs.


East Ghouta tension


Tensions mounted in Damascus’s eastern Ghouta suburbs on February 18 after fighters from the Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union merged with Faylaq al-Rahman hours after Jaysh al-Islam had launched a public campaign aiming to entice the Islamist fighters to join its ranks instead.


Jaysh al-Islam published a video that claimed to show Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union members in the eastern Ghouta town of Douma joining the larger Islamist group. In the video, an alleged Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union fighter said he and his compatriots had “enlisted” in Jaysh al-Islam because of “poor treatment and a lack of care for us as mujahedeen.”


“We call on our brothers in the Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union to emulate our example [and] follow in our footsteps [by] enlisting in Jaysh al-Islam,” the spokesperson said.


However, the Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union fired back, accusing Jaysh al-Islam of intimidating its members in Douma and forcing them into making the video statement.

“Jaysh al-Islam is surrounding several of the Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union’s  bases in eastern Ghouta and forcing members [of the eastern Ghouta sector] to make statements [saying that they have] enlisted in Jaysh [al-Islam] after it learned of Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union’s merger agreement with Faylaq al-Rahman,” Ajnad al-Sham spokesperson Waiel Olwan said on Twitter.


He also re-tweeted a post by Twitter user Alaa al-Ahmad that said Jaysh al-Islam had “stormed one of the Union’s bases in eastern Ghouta and filmed the enlistment of one of the Union’s divisions [into] Jaysh al-Islam by force of arms and heavy machine guns.”


“Any talk of a merger with [Jaysh al-Islam] is fabricated. The Union will be dissolved in its entirety into Faylaq al-Rahman,” the post added.


A day later, Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaysh al-Islam issued a joint statement announcing that both sides had resolved the dispute over the Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union merger.


“After the meeting that was concluded between Faylaq al-Rahman leadership and Jaysh al-Islam leadership the misunderstanding that took place… was resolved and incorporation of the Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union into Faylaq al-Rahman was given Jaysh al-Islam’s blessing,” the statement announced.


The two sides confirmed that this was a step that “contributes to the unification of ranks and brings success to joint action in a manner that serves the interests of the Ghouta in particular and the revolution in general.”


The Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union was formed in November 2013 as a conglomeration of five Islamist brigades active in the outskirts of Damascus. In 2014, it was considered the second largest Islamist group fighting the regime in the capital; however its profile has been partially eclipsed by Faylaq al-Rahman.


Faylaq al-Rahman was also formed in November 2013, bringing together a number of Free Syrian Army-affiliated units under the command of Abd al-Nasr Shmeir, a defected Syrian army officer who is now one of the top rebel leaders in eastern Ghouta.


The Institute for the Study of War classifies Faylaq al-Rahman as one of the only twelve “powerbroker” groups or factions powerful enough to determine “the success of military operations against either the Syrian regime or ISIS.” Jaysh al-Islam is the only other rebel faction in eastern Ghouta listed by the ISW as a “powerbroker.”


NOW’s English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Ullin Hope (@UllinHope) translated the Arabic-language source material.

Rebels reportedly clashed in the Zamalka suburb of Damascus. (Facebook/LensYoungdimashqi)

Fierce clashes proceeded to break out between the two sides.