Hashim al-Sheikh Abu Jaber, the general commander of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaida affiliated terrorist group in Syria, announced on Friday that the group is ready to dissolve itself and hand over authority to a civilian council, if other factions operating in the region do the same. Some Turkish media outlets reported that the announcement was the result of ongoing negotiations between the HTS and factions loyal to the Turkish-backed FSA, as Ankara is strongly concerned a possible military operation in Idlib may trigger a new humanitarian crisis in northern Syria.
"They told us first you have to dissolve HTS. We said we are ready for this, but only if the factions themselves are dissolved," said Abu Jaber in a voice recording of the Friday prayer in a town in rural Idlib, the independent Syrian Qasioun News Agency reported.
Turkish media outlets, including daily Yeni Şafak and Karar, reported that the announcement came after Turkey's efforts to prevent a destructive military offensive on the city as occurred in Aleppo due to fears of a new massive refugee wave. Human right organizations warn that the possible military operation on Idlib could result in the relocation of nearly 1 million people. Turkey already hosts more than 3 million refugees.
Abu Jaber added, "We are currently looking for one body, after years of rupture and fragmentation witnessed in the arena," calling for "a comprehensive project that puts a program based on the political view of the people and a military body that protects the people."Earlier this month, high-level sources told Daily Sabah that Turkish and Iranian military chiefs shook hands on a joint de-escalation zone mechanism in Idlib, which would also include the Russian military. The issue also was discussed during Iranian Chief of Staff General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri's Ankara visit where he met with Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.According to the Karar daily's article, while Turkey continues discussions for the operation on Idlib, it also offered a proposal of four suggestions to moderate rebels. The proposal envisages forming a civilian administration under the umbrella of the Syrian Transition Government, forming a police force to provide security, dissolving the HTS and having a rebel group approved by Ankara take over the Turkey-Syria border.
Tensions concerning Idlib quickly escalated after the U.S. special envoy for global coalition to counter Daesh, Brett McGurk, contended that the town has become a hotbed for al-Qaida terrorists. Speaking at a panel on U.S. President Donald Trump's fight against terrorism in the Middle East Institute in Washington on July 30, McGurk said: "Idlib has turned into a safe zone for al-Qaida terrorists on the Turkish border."