Breaking the Siege of Aleppo Improves Jaish al-Fateh’s Standing with Syrians

On Saturday, opposition forces broke the regime’s siege on Aleppo. Though the situation is critical, Syrians in opposition territories are rejoicing at the news. The opposition’s advance came as the opposition coalition known as Jaish al-Fateh, which is dominated by Islamist groups, showed unprecedented unity among groups that are normally fragmented and operating individually. The victory improves the Syrian public’s perception of the Islamist groups, even Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formally the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, while hurting their perception of United States because it did not intervene.

Mumina Samar and other mothers who have lived through difficult days in recent months are waiting for a safe route to leave Aleppo and visit their children in areas controlled by the opposition in Idlib and the surrounding countryside.

Samar works in a humanitarian organization that serves women and children. She speaks about her fears and thanks Jaish al-Fatah [the Army of Conquest]. “A whole month of starvation, siege, and bombing. There’s no kind of weapon our forces didn’t use. We saw bodies and wished we would die so as not to be at the mercy of the regime. The regime claimed there are humanitarian corridors by which civilians can leave, but we found this to be a lie and that it was a trap. [We heard that] dozens of people were killed while trying to leave besieged Aleppo. I’m speaking to you over the phone now, and my eyes are filled with tears. My dream will come true soon, I’ll see [my family] soon, thanks to Jaish al-Fatah, thanks to everyone who helped civilians and rescued them from Russia and Assad’s siege.”

Ms. Momina also shares her opinion of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and the West’s lack of intervention. “The West, especially America, lied to us. They promised us that that al-Assad would leave within days, but days turned into years, and we realized that he’s their strategic ally in the region. As a Syrian, I give my blessings to the union of opposition groups whoever they are, whether they’re from the Free Syrian Army or the Islamists, the important thing is that we keep our distance from any foreign support, especially support contingent on America’s conditions, which would be a humiliation.”

Finally, she adds, “I’m very happy that the opposition groups have united, and thank Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army for what they’ve done for us in Aleppo. My young daughter needs me, and I’ll see her soon. These tears of mine are tears of joy and gratitude for all the brave men who broke the siege for us.”

The opposition’s victory improved how Syrians see Jaish al-Fatah and other Islamist factions, although some say that groups within Aleppo were the most responsible for breaking the siege. Regardless, Jaish al-Fatah carried out a successful media campaign, which has influenced individuals, both in Syria and abroad.

Ahmed, a young man, expresses a similar opinion to other Syrians who say that Nusra Front, by breaking from al-Qaeda and forming Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, has become a Syrian group that respects Syrians’ opinions. Ahmed says, “Yes, there’s no reason now for the West to bomb us and strike us, let them go strike ISIS and Assad, who are both terrorists. I urge the international community to respect Syrian opposition groups, who saved 300,000 civilians from the siege. This took a huge, huge effort, and deserves respect. I watched the battle from a window in my house, which had been bombed by the Assad regime and Russia during the past months of the siege. Yes, I followed the battle over the radio. At first I said that Assad would defeat us, that we should give in to him and do what he asked. A month before these events, I was crying, but now I say loud and clear: leave us, the tyrant must leave, we want freedom, we love life.”

While Syrians across the country were rejoicing that the siege of Aleppo was broken, opposition forces announced that the first convoy of humanitarian aid entered the city in recent hours. Local residents in nearby refugee camps gathered the aid, and the convoy was welcomed with ululations of joy from residents of Aleppo, even though there was not a large amount of aid. Residents of Idlib and neighboring refugee camps collected the aid, who are themselves living on humanitarian aid from civil society organizations.

Most locals say that the Nusra Front has disappeared without a trace, and that so-called ‘al-Qaeda’ is no longer present either. This is met with great joy across Syrian society, where people had been afraid to deal with al-Qaeda. Everyone reiterates that al-Qaeda is no longer present in Syria, and that all groups are Syrian ones.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a commander in the Free Syrian Army said, “Now there are two cancers we must get rid of: the first is Assad, and the second is ISIS. The first one is the reason the second one exists, and when we are rid of Assad, we will be rid of the second one. I used to work in the government, and I know exactly how Assad’s regime thinks.”

Military operations in the countryside around Aleppo continue for the tenth straight day, in order to secure the supply route to eastern Aleppo through the neighborhood of Ramouseh, which connects the countryside to areas under siege. According to opposition forces, the Castello road, which was the only way out for opposition forces in Aleppo, is now the only road connecting neighborhoods in western Aleppo with areas under the regime’s control in the north and east. Facts indicate that thanks to the opposition forces, tables have turned completely with regards to Aleppo and its countryside, which will reflect positively on the opposition’s position in current negotiations. The situation is still critical, however, as the regime and its supporters continue to bomb the city and the road opened by opposition forces.

Saleem al-Omar is a freelance journalist who has written for Al-Jazeera, Alquds Alarabi Newspaper, Arabi 21, and Syria Deeply.

Image: Photo: A family that fled from Hama stand in a field in southern rural Manbij where Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) have taken control, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said