On January 5, thousands of civilians including women and children protested in the towns of Babbila and Beit Sahem south of Damascus city against the al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and the Hamas-affiliated militant group Jaysh al-Ababil, according to Syrian pro-government sources.
The Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV said that the protestors condemned the terrorists acts of HTS and Jaysh al-Ababil during the protests and called on the two Islamist groups to leave the area.
Local sources reported the Jaysh al-Ababil fighters injured several protestors with machine guns.
Last week, dozens of children protested in the towns of Babbila and Beit Sahem against Jaysh al-Ababil, after it had arrested their relatives because they were planning to join the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
The Syrian government has been negotiating with HTS and Jaysh al-Ababil to expel them from the towns of Aqraba, Beit Sahm, Yalda and Babila since December 2017. However, many foreign fighters of HTS and commanders linked to the Palestinian Hamas Movement refused to leave the towns, according to pro-government activists.
While the protests will increase the pressure on HTS and Jaysh al-Ababil, the Islamist groups will not likely accept an agreement to leave southern Damascus unless the SAA launches a military operation against them.
On December 27, the pro-government blog al-Masdar reported that the SAA is preparing to launch a military operation against ISIS, HTS and Jaysh al-Ababil south of the Syrian capital, Damascus. However, this report appeared to be untrue. The SAA is now deeply involved in operations against militants in Eastern Ghouta and southern Idlib. This does not allow government forces to open a new major front.