MESOP Syria Daily: What Now in “Liberated” Idlib?

 By Scott Lucas March 30, 2015 06:48 Updated – eaworldview – Having completed the capture of the provincial capital of Idlib in northwest Syria, rebels began to confront the challenge of running the city on Sunday.

A coalition of rebel groups — including the Islamic Front bloc and its largest component Ahrar al-Sham, the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra, other blocs such as Faylaq al-Sham, Free Syrian units, and local brigades — moved into the center of Idlib on Saturday. Facing the threat of regime airstrikes, civil defense units immediately began the evacuation of vulnerable civilians outside Idlib, which had a pre-war population of 165,000. By Sunday afternoon, 1,500 families had been moved.

Claims are circulating this morning that the Syrian air force has carried out chemical attacks on the Security Quarter and near grain silos, dropping six barrel bombs with chlorine canisters. Meanwhile, the head of the Sharia Council of the Jaish al-Fatah operations room, which oversaw the Idlib offensive, issued a statement about legal arrangements. Sheikh Muhammad al-Mohaisany said a new “United Court” would be established, rather than a body dominated by either Jabhat al-Nusra or by the Islamic Front and Free Syrian Army.

Al-Mohaisany said the Sharia Committee had already been chosen, with factions agreeing on the system for headquarters and administration. He concluded, “The city swill be a new start for unity between the factions.”The leader of Ahrar al-Sham, Hashem al-Sheikh, issued a statement to all rebels: “Be humble, unite in governance without factionalism, and show a good image. Put the benefit of Islam and the people before groups.”

To the people of Idlib, al-Sheikh said, “These are your sons who came to remove oppression, not to put themselves as rulers, so aid them in administering the city.” And he warned the Assad regime that, if Idlib was bombed, rebel forces would strike the pro-regime enclaves of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya to the north of the city.Syrian State news agency SANA — which still said on Sunday that the army was “confronting terrorists” in Idlib — completely ignores the city this morning. Idlib is the third provincial capital lost by the Assad regime in the four-year conflict. Raqqa in northern Syria, taken in autumn 2013, is now controlled by the Islamic State after it pushed out rebel forces. Quneitra, in southwest Syria near the demilitarized zone with Israel, is depopulated because of months of fighting before the area was claimed by rebels last year.