Syria’s Ahrar Al-Sham Appointed New Leader After Internal Crisis, Pressure From Turkey

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The Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham Movement has appointed a new leader, ending an internal crisis that began more than a month ago.

Citing sources within the movement, the Istanbul-based Syria TV confirmed on December 2 that Abu Yahiya al-Hamui, also known as “al-Qalaa,” had been appointed as the new Commander-in-Chief.

Al-Hamui, whose real name is Muhanad al-Masri, is a native of western Hama and one of Ahrar al-Sham founders. He was the “General Commander” of the movement during 2015.

Ahrar al-Sham is one of the few large Turkish-backed factions in the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib. The movement fights side by side with al-Qaeda groups.

Syria’s Ahrar Al-Sham Appointed New Leader After Internal Crisis, Pressure From Turkey

Muhanad al-Masri, aka Abu Yahiya al-Hamui

In October, a serious crisis threatened the unity of Ahrar al-Sham. The movement’s leader, back then, Jaber Ali Basha had a fall out with Inad Darwish, “Abu al-Munzier,” the commander of the military wing and Hassan Soufan, a former commander.

Backed by al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Soufan and Darwish launched a campaign to sack Basha and his affiliates.

The “rebellion” ended last month when a group of al-Qaeda-affiliated Sheikhs intervened to find a settlement. Turkey also halted its support for Ahrar al-Sham in order to pressure both wings into finding common grounds.

The appointment of al-Hamui was a part of the final settlement, which also saw the formation of a new Shura Council with Soufan, Darwish and four other members appointed by Basha. A commander known as Abu Sohib was appointed as the new leader for the military wing.

Darwish remained the representative of the movement in the al-Fateh al-Mubeen Operations Room, which is dominated by HTS and other al-Qaeda factions.

The settlement has saved Ahrar al-Sham for the time being. The movement, which lost most of its influence and assets over the past four years, will not likely survive another internal crisis or a battle in Greater Idlib.

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