TOPSHOT - Children look out of the window of a bus upon their arrival at the Abu al-Zindeen checkpoint near the northern Syrian town of al-Bab after Jaish al-Islam fighters and their families from the former rebel bastion's main town of Douma were evacuated from the last rebel-held pocket in Eastern Ghouta on April 3, 2018.
Russia-backed regime forces have retaken control of 95 percent of Eastern Ghouta since February 18 through a combination of a deadly air and ground assault and evacuation deals. / AFP PHOTO / Nazeer al-Khatib
The children of Jaish Al Islam fighters look out of the window of a bus after their evacuation from the rebel stronghold of Douma in Eastern Ghouta / AFP

What became of the four rebel groups that once dominated the Syrian conflict?



Since 2013, a number of powerful extremist forces have positioned themselves as the public face of the Syrian rebels. Those factions have become the single largest rebel force opposed to the regime in Damascus after coming together under the so-called Islamic Front in December 2013, eclipsing the previously all-encompassing canopy of the Free Syrian Army. 

Their dominance also came against the backdrop of the rise of both ISIL and Jabhat Al Nusra, which had clashed with each other after the latter split from the former in the spring of 2013. The Islamic Front then entered a protracted conflict with ISIL shortly after its formation.

Even though the Islamic Front was formed on ideological proximity, the alliance quickly began to unravel as a result of inter-factional and strategic differences. Those differences often involved the fight against ISIL, which launched a relentless campaign that eventually contributed to the demise of the Islamic Front alliance a few months after its establishment.

By the time it collapsed, some of its factions had effectively vanished. Other groups, such as Ahrar Al Sham and Jaish Al Islam, continued to play a central role in shaping events in the conflict. Jabhat Al Nusra, having survived the upheaval of its infighting with ISIL, bounced back and also became a key player in the conflict, as did ISIL. Acting against or in alliance with each other, these four groups have since dominated the scene in Syria.

Recently, however, each has faced unprecedented misfortune: ISIL lost vast territories it seized in the summer of 2014 and Jabhat Al Nusra's presence has become largely concentrated in the remaining rebel pockets in northwestern Syria, even though it is not seriously weakened.

For the two other groups, Ahrar Al Sham and Jaish Al Islam, the story of their transformation might be more consequential for the Syrian opposition as both claim to be part of the mainstream rebellion against the regime, unlike Jabhat Al Nusra and ISIL.

Ahrar Al Sham has suffered two near-death experiences. The first came after a mysterious blast wiped out almost its entire leadership in September 2014. After a brief period of paralysis, the group quickly rose to prominence again – not because it was institutionally strong but due to the massive logistical and financial support from its foreign backers, especially Turkey. 

That backing ensured a dominant role for the group in northern Syria, near the Turkish borders in Idlib and Aleppo. Six months after the elimination of its leadership, the group joined forces with Jabhat Al Nusra and several other factions to form the Army of Conquest. The new alliance made a string of gains that included the expulsion of the regime forces from Idlib, the only provincial capital still under rebel control. The Army of Conquest's advances ultimately led to the Russian intervention in September 2015.

The second test for Ahrar Al Sham came last year after Jabhat Al Nusra turned on it in an attempt in 2016 and 2017 to dominate the rebel landscape in north-western Syria. to dominate the rebel landscape in northwestern Syria. The Jabhat Al Nusra attacks against Ahrar Al Sham surprised many because the two groups had maintained a close relationship since the early days of their existence in Syria and, despite the former’s increased hostility to rebel groups, not many expected it to turn against its most useful ally. 

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Ahrar Al Sham also proved too weak to protect itself against attacks from Jabhat Al Nusra, shocking its supporters. It eventually lost hundreds of its most battle-hardened fighters and the organisation largely crumbled. Despite attempts to restore it under a new leadership last year, Ahrar Al Sham is a shell of its former – retrospectively inflated – self.

Ahrar Al Sham’s first re-emergence was made possible by Turkish support. But after the developments last year, Turkey has shown no such desire to prop up its former proxy. Ahrar Al Sham’s true weakness was demonstrated recently when it partook in a campaign to push back Jabhat Al Nusra in Idlib, which many hoped and expected would be backed by Turkey. Without Turkish support, it went nowhere. Ahrar Al Sham is now a minor player. 

The same might be soon happening to the final, once-powerful group Jaish Al Islam, which is currently in negotiations with Russia for a peaceful resolution to the vicious campaign launched by Moscow and Damascus in Eastern Ghouta. Other militants who operated in the Damascene suburbs have already evacuated the area as part of separate deals with Russia.

Jaish Al Islam has insisted it will not leave its strongholds outside Damascus. Alternative scenarios include remaining in control of its strongholds through a peace deal with the regime, which could mean operating as a local administrative force. 

Both the opposition and the regime, though, believe evacuation is the likely scenario. Like a fish out of water, Jaish Al Islam will not survive evacuation. As a result, informed sources say, a deal has been delayed while Jaish Al Islam seeks an alternative fish tank.

Jaish Al Islam's strength emanated from being a local organisation rooted in local dynamics. Its founder, Zahran Alloush, was a Salafi cleric from Douma with a track record of opposing the regime before the uprisings. The local environment enabled Jaish Al Islam to entrench itself and establish near monopoly over critical terrain. 

By contrast, the rebel-held north is a hostile environment for it. The group made bitter enemies near Damascus and those enemies, especially Jabhat Al Nusra, are dominant in the northwest. Jaish Al Islam, as part of its outreach, is touting itself as a viable Turkish ally in the north against the Kurdish militias that Ankara despises and against Jabhat Al Nusra, which many view as a potential pretext for attacking Idlib.

The group has already hinted at such scenarios, either by expressing solidarity with Turkey in its operation in Afrin against the Kurdish YPG, the People's Protection Units, or by referring to YPG-held Manbij as a potential alternative stronghold. Whether Turkey will provide such a lifeline for Jaish Al Islam or not, the departure of the group from Damascus will open up new possibilities in the Syrian conflict.

Hassan Hassan is co-author of the New York Times bestseller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror and a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, Washington DC

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2

The Good Liar

Starring: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen

Directed by: Bill Condon

Three out of five stars

UAE players with central contracts

Rohan Mustafa, Ashfaq Ahmed, Chirag Suri, Rameez Shahzad, Shaiman Anwar, Adnan Mufti, Mohammed Usman, Ghulam Shabbir, Ahmed Raza, Qadeer Ahmed, Amir Hayat, Mohammed Naveed and Imran Haider.

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

Director: Francis Lawrence

Stars: Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Viola Davis, Tom Blyth

Rating: 3/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Director: Wes Ball

Starring: Owen Teague, Freya Allen, Kevin Durand

Rating: 3.5/5

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

UAE medallists at Asian Games 2023

Gold
Magomedomar Magomedomarov – Judo – Men’s +100kg
Khaled Al Shehi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -62kg
Faisal Al Ketbi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -85kg
Asma Al Hosani – Jiu-jitsu – Women’s -52kg
Shamma Al Kalbani – Jiu-jitsu – Women’s -63kg
Silver
Omar Al Marzooqi – Equestrian – Individual showjumping
Bishrelt Khorloodoi – Judo – Women’s -52kg
Khalid Al Blooshi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -62kg
Mohamed Al Suwaidi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -69kg
Balqees Abdulla – Jiu-jitsu – Women’s -48kg
Bronze
Hawraa Alajmi – Karate – Women’s kumite -50kg
Ahmed Al Mansoori – Cycling – Men’s omnium
Abdullah Al Marri – Equestrian – Individual showjumping
Team UAE – Equestrian – Team showjumping
Dzhafar Kostoev – Judo – Men’s -100kg
Narmandakh Bayanmunkh – Judo – Men’s -66kg
Grigorian Aram – Judo – Men’s -90kg
Mahdi Al Awlaqi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -77kg
Saeed Al Kubaisi – Jiu-jitsu – Men’s -85kg
Shamsa Al Ameri – Jiu-jitsu – Women’s -57kg

The Color Purple

Director: Blitz Bazawule
Starring: Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P Henson, Danielle Brooks, Colman Domingo
Rating: 4/5

SPECS

Engine: Two-litre four-cylinder turbo
Power: 235hp
Torque: 350Nm
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Price: From Dh167,500 ($45,000)
On sale: Now

SPECS

Engine: 4-litre V8 twin-turbo
Power: 630hp
Torque: 850Nm
Transmission: 8-speed Tiptronic automatic
Price: From Dh599,000
On sale: Now

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

Other IPL batting records

Most sixes: 292 – Chris Gayle

Most fours: 491 – Gautam Gambhir

Highest individual score: 175 not out – Chris Gayle (for Royal Challengers Bangalore against Pune Warriors in 2013)

Highest strike-rate: 177.29 – Andre Russell

Highest strike-rate in an innings: 422.22 – Chris Morris (for Delhi Daredevils against Rising Pune Supergiant in 2017)

Highest average: 52.16 – Vijay Shankar

Most centuries: 6 – Chris Gayle

Most fifties: 36 – Gautam Gambhir

Fastest hundred (balls faced): 30 – Chris Gayle (for Royal Challengers Bangalore against Pune Warriors in 2013)

Fastest fifty (balls faced): 14 – Lokesh Rahul (for Kings XI Punjab against Delhi Daredevils in 2018)

 

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Vault
Started: June 2023
Co-founders: Bilal Abou-Diab and Sami Abdul Hadi
Based: Abu Dhabi
Licensed by: Abu Dhabi Global Market
Industry: Investment and wealth advisory
Funding: $1 million
Investors: Outliers VC and angel investors
Number of employees: 14

EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates

Understand What Black Is

The Last Poets

(Studio Rockers)

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian
Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).


Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).


Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming
Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics
Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

The biog

Profession: Senior sports presenter and producer

Marital status: Single

Favourite book: Al Nabi by Jibran Khalil Jibran

Favourite food: Italian and Lebanese food

Favourite football player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Languages: Arabic, French, English, Portuguese and some Spanish

Website: www.liliane-tannoury.com

England v South Africa schedule:

  • First Test: At Lord's, England won by 219 runs
  • Second Test: July 14-18, Trent Bridge, Nottingham, 2pm
  • Third Test: The Oval, London, July 27-31, 2pm
  • Fourth Test: Old Trafford, Manchester, August 4-8
Company Profile

Company name: myZoi
Started: 2021
Founders: Syed Ali, Christian Buchholz, Shanawaz Rouf, Arsalan Siddiqui, Nabid Hassan
Based: UAE
Number of staff: 37
Investment: Initial undisclosed funding from SC Ventures; second round of funding totalling $14 million from a consortium of SBI, a Japanese VC firm, and SC Venture

The specs

Engine: Single front-axle electric motor
Power: 218hp
Torque: 330Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Max touring range: 402km (claimed)
Price: From Dh215,000 (estimate)
On sale: September