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The rebel groups fighting in eastern Ghouta

Wesley Dockery
February 20, 2018

Near Syria's capital, Damascus, fighting has escalated between the Syrian government and rebels in the suburb of eastern Ghouta. DW takes a look at these various groups and who supports them.

Syrian air bombardments against East-Ghouta
Image: Getty Images/AFP/H. Al-Ajweh

The eastern Ghouta suburb is one of the last remaining areas of rebel control in Syria. These rebels, who demand the fall of President Bashar al-Assad's government, are being bombarded by Syrian military airstrikes. The United Nations described the bombardments on Monday as "senseless human suffering." At least 200 civilians have been killed in the fighting over the last three days.  There are a total of 400,000 residents in eastern Ghouta and rebel-controlled areas amount to about 100 square kilometers (40 square miles).

Syrian rebel groups are negotiating with Russia, a major Assad ally, to end the bombardments on Eastern Ghouta. "We are trying to do whatever we can do by negotiations with the Russians themselves, to interfere to stop these massacres," Nasr al-Hariri, the head of the Syrian opposition's negotiating team, told the DPA news agency. Here are the main rebel groups, many with Islamist leanings, operating in the suburb:

1. Jaysh al-Islam: The Jaysh al-Islam, or Army of Islam, coalition is centered in the Damascus area and eastern Ghouta. It aims to replace the Assad government with a Syria based on Sharia, or Islamic law. The group's founder, Zahran Aloush, recruited many of its members and expanded its arsenal of military equipment. He was assassinated by the Syrian military in a 2015 airstrike. The group is now headed by Essam al-Buwaydhani. It is the largest rebel faction in the eastern Ghouta region, with an estimated 10-15,000 members. The organization is also said to have received money from Saudi Arabia, but has denied those claims.

Syrian opposition activist Adnan Hadad on government strikes on the enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

2. Faylaq al-Rahman: The Faylaq al-Rahman organization, or al-Rahman Legion, is also based in eastern Ghouta and is allied with Qatar. It is also connected to the Free Syrian Army, one of the biggest rebel coalitions formed at the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. The organization describes itself as "a revolutionary military entity aiming for the downfall of the Syrian regime," but it does not seek to turn Syria into an Islamic state. The group possesses American BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles. The organization is directly opposed to Jaysh al-Islam and has allied with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.

3. Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham: The Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham organization, or Organization for the Liberation of the Levant, is also known as the covert Syrian version of al Qaeda. It is led by Hasim al-Sheikh, also know as Abu Jabr, and is based in the northwestern city of Idlib. The organization believes in using violence to implement an ultraconservative religious doctrine.

4. Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki movement: The Harakat al-Din al-Zenki, or the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, is a Sunni Islamist group based in Aleppo. In June 2016, a video of the group circulated showing its members beheading a 15-year-old boy. The video received obvious attention, not only due to the cruelness of the action but also the fact that during that time the United States had financially backed the organization.

5. Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya: The Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, or Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant, aims to also form an Islamic state in Syria based on Sharia. It's membership is in the tens of thousands and merged with the Nour al-Din al-Zenki movement on February 18, 2018. The group has tanks, mobile artillery and anti-guided missiles it procured from its victories against the Syrian army. Its main rival is Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. The organization has allegedly received money from donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey and is opposed by Syria, Iran and Russia.

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