Jabhat Al Nusra Finds Challenges and Opportunities in Syria Ceasefire

Mar 13, 2016

A limited ceasefire in Syria came into force on February 27 and managed to lower the level of violence in the country. Nevertheless, the Islamic State and Jabhat Al-Nusra, neither of which was party to this agreement, continued fighting. With many of its allies laying down their arms, at least temporarily, Jabhat Al-Nusra is now more isolated in its fight against the Assad regime.

Media reports say that the regime and its allies have foiled a number of JN attempts to seize strategic towns north of Hama and south of Aleppo. North of Aleppo, the regime reportedly launched a major offensive on March 8, aided by intense bombardment of Russian jets. JN issued a video urging its soldiers fighting in these areas to remain steadfast: "know that these mountains are a single strip, if one Muslim stronghold falls, all of them will." Interestingly, the video carried a defensive message, stressing the importance of ribat (the mostly static protection of Islamic frontiers), rather than the expansion to new territories. 

The group has attacked the ceasefire initiative from the very beginning and continues to speak out against it in its media publications. Several videos published by the group over the past weeks showed residents of Idlib, Aleppo, and Dera'a speaking out against the agreement and in support of Jabhat Al-Nusra. Another video, published on March 10, also rejected the agreement as a result of a "crusader alliance" and called on Syrians to continue their revolution: "beware of any display of weakness, or hesitation, after all the sacrifices you have made."

At the same time, however, JN may find the current situation to be an opportunity to strengthen its position among the hardline rebel groups who also oppose the ceasefire agreement. Reports circulating on social media over the last few days suggest that a Damascus-based group, Fajr Al-Umma, will announce its merger with JN soon. Last month, a large group of defectors from the Jund Al-Aqsa militia also pledged allegiance to JN.