U.S.-backed Syria rebel group dissolves itself after losses
Western-backed rebel group announced on Sunday that it had dissolved itself and joined a larger Islamist alliance, weeks into a battle which saw it lose ground and men to more powerful al Qaeda Nusra Front insurgents. The group was called Hazzm and is one of the last non-jihadist rebel groups in northeastern Syria who are opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. Much of northwestern Syria has been seized by the Nusra Front and Islamic State, an offshoot of al Qaeda that controls roughly a third of Syria.
The statement posted online by Hazzm said its fighters would join the Shamiyah Front (Levant Front), an alliance of Islamist brigades in Aleppo, to prevent further bloodshed, between rebel groups. The decision came after heavy fighting this past weekend between Hazzm and the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s official Syria wing. Hazzm is one of Obama’s so called moderate rebel groups known as the Free Syrian Army or FSA.
Hazzm had received substantial amounts of military aid from foreign states opposed to Assad, including U.S.-made anti-tank missiles known as TOW’s. But it has lost ground to better armed and financed jihadists, like al Nusra Front.
On Saturday, the Nusra Front drove Hazzm out of a strategic northern Regiment 46 base in Aleppo province and killed around 30 of its fighters.
The United Nations peace mediator Staffan de Mistura met with Syrian officials on Saturday and Sunday to discuss a freeze in the fighting in Aleppo. De Mistura said Syria has ready to halt all aerial and artillery bombing in the city for six weeks. Damascus will announce the start date of the local ceasefire. His office said on Sunday a mission has been sent to Aleppo to ensure humanitarian aid could increase significantly, and to monitor any violation of the freeze. However we have already heard from rebel groups who say they will not honor the ceasefire.
The Hazzm Movement (Arabic: حركة حزم, Harakat Hazzm, meaning Movement of Steadfastness) was an alliance of moderate Syrian rebels. The group has been supplied BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles in a covert CIA program launched in 2014, scores of the groups fighters also received U.S. military training in Qatar under the same program.
Some of the groups currently involved in the alliance were part of the Farouq Brigades. The groups that became the Army of Mujahedeen were originally going to join the Hazzm Movement. The previous incarnation of the group, called Harakat Zaman Mohamed (The movement of the time of Muhammad), was supported by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
In October 2014, Al-Nusra Front began attacking positions of Hazzm in Idlib Province, overrunning bases and seizing weapon stores, due to it’s perceived closeness to the United States. Following the loss of men and weapons to Nusra, the Idlib branch of Hazzm stopped receiving funds from the CIA in December 2014, funds to the Aleppo branch continued. In January 2015, Al Nusra attacked Hazzm Movement positions in Aleppo province. The Hazzm Movement reacted by joining the Levant Front, a large alliance of prominent Aleppo-based Islamist rebel groups; the alliance urged al Nusra to resolve its dispute with the Hazzm Movement by negotiating with the Levant Front.