Tahrir al-Sham's recent efforts to expand its control into swathes of Idlib, Hama and Aleppo provinces has met with popular resistance, a local activist said.
The extremist alliance has been expelling the fighters of rival factions from the region, and is pursuing those who oppose it using lists of names it has compiled, Idlib activist Musab Assaf told Diyaruna.
Widespread popular rejection of Tahrir al-Sham prevails on the outer edges of Idlib province and in western Hama province, he said.
But this is nothing new, he added, noting that local residents have objected to the extremist ideology it has propagated since its formation, as al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, and through its merger and rebranding as Tahrir al-Sham.
There has been widespread outrage over Tahrir al-Sham’s insistence on expelling and exiling the fighters of opposition groups who oppose it, Assaf said.
Its brutal actions during the fighting, which include the conduct of sweep operations with indiscriminate live fire, also have made it unpopular with civilians in the areas it is attempting to control, he said.
Tahrir al-Sham is aware of the popular anger against it, and has been trying to contain this by holding intensive talks with influential figures in the areas it seized in western rural Aleppo, Assaf said.
These meetings have been punctuated with direct threats of dire consequences, should the local populace attempt to stage any protest against it, he added.
The extremist alliance "ordered local councils to continue their work, but prohibited them from taking any decision without first checking with Tahrir al-Sham's representative in the area or town administered by the local council", he said.
The local councils also have been instructed to prepare to come under the authority of the group’s so-called salvation government, he added.
Tensions over flag burning
Social media has exploded with anti-Tahrir al-Sham activity since news broke that the extremist alliance has compiled lists of its opponents in order to track them down more effectively, Assaf said.
Tahrir al-Sham also has banned the flag of the Syrian revolution, he said, replacing it with its own, as it has done in other areas that were under its control before the recent fighting.
"A photo of masked Tahrir al-Sham elements standing on the flag of the Syrian revolution, and others showing them burning the flag sparked angry condemnation from civilians and activists," he added.
"The situation in rural Idlib is very tense because of the group’s insistence on entering the city of Maarat al-Numan," Assaf said.
Youth from the area, along with the members of armed groups present there, have blocked all roads leading to the city in preparation for a fierce battle, in the event the group decides to enter it by force, he said.