Head of a new Jihadi coalition says no to Astana talks, yes to a united Islamic Syria (Video)
by Pierre Balanian

For the first time since Hayy’at Tahrir Al Sham was founded a month ago, its leader Hashim al Shaikh issued a message. He calls for unity with other fundamentalist forces to build a Syria that maintains "its Islamic identity." For the moment, Hayy’at has been involved in eliminating all Islamists "traitors."

Damascus (AsiaNews) – In his first video appearance yesterday, the head of Hayy’at Taḥrīr al-Shām (Organisation for the Liberation of the Levant), Hashim al Shaikh (Abu Jaber Shaykh), launched an attack in no uncertain terms against the recent peace talks in Astana.

Hayy’at Taḥrīr al-Shām was created last month after Jihadi rebels suffered a defeat in Aleppo. It includes a host of extremist groups like Jabhat fatḥ ash-Shām (ex al-Nusra Front), which has tried to overthrow Syrian President Assad and his secularist government for the past seven years. The word al-Shām is not limited to Syria, but covers Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.

Many Salafis in the world have hailed the new extremist coalition. One of the most enthusiastic is Jaysh al-Ummah, a Palestinian group based in Gaza, which hopes to see the group "start a new proud page in the Damascene Jihadia to highlight a new spectacular age of heroism to bury the plots of the unbelievers and infidels, and with them the conferences [full] of shame and subjugation," a clear reference to the Astana peace conference sponsored by Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations.

In his first videotaped speech, Hashim al Shaikh, an engineer by training, pledged to step up armed actions "against Syria’s regular army and its allies" to "overthrow" of Syrian President Bashar Assad and achieve the “liberation of the whole territory”.

He said the Hayy’at is "hope that comes out of pain, like a ray of light from the darkest of darkness."

The Salafi engineer describe the group as an "independent entity which does not represent any continuity with previous organisations or factions", which instead "merged in it to represent a new phase of the blessed revolution."

In practice, he denies that Hayy’at is a new name behind the Al Nusra Front (formerly Al-qāʿidah), and later morphed into Jabhat fatḥ ash-Shām, which is listed as a terrorist group.

Hashim al Shaikh warned his viewers to meditate on the gravity of this period, a "dangerous turning point" full of "challenges" on all fronts: political, military, and social.

He promised that Hayy’at would immediately resume "armed action against the regime with attacks on barracks and starting a new war of liberation."

Al Shaikh appealed to all factions still outside his coalition, encouraging his fighters not to despair, "to hold on", promising victory.

Finally, he slammed the peace conference in Astana, saying that "the page of ash-Shām will not be turned with conferences that try to abort the revolution."

According to Hashim al Shaikh, Hayy’at wants to "unify all armed factions under a single control unit that manages military operations of the revolution in Syria" with the intention of upholding "Syria’s territorial integrity and its Islamic identity "rather than its more secular and multi-religious identity.

However, since it was set up a month ago, the group has mainly focused its struggle more against so-called Jihadi "traitors" than on the Syrian government that it claims to be fighting.