The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.
In recent days, Syrian jihadi group Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) has released two videos featuring appearances by the group's leader, Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani, in the Idlib area, on the occasion of the Eid Al-Fitr holiday which began this year on May 13, 2021.
One video shows Al-Joulani making an Eid visit to a group of local tribal leaders, while the other features the HTS leader meeting with a group of people who had grievances against HTS, which the group resolved by paying compensation. In both videos, Al-Joulani discusses the importance of rebel institutions, particularly the judicial system. Over the past year, HTS has established several nominally independent bodies to help to administer the rebel-controlled Idlib area, although they are considered to be de facto branches of the jihadi group.
It seems to have become a tradition for Al-Joulani, who rarely appears in public, to make documented public appearances on holidays. The purpose of these videos and photographs is to boost HTS popularity by portraying Al-Joulani as a leader who is concerned about all sectors of the local population and is beloved by the people of Idlib.
Al-Joulani last appeared in public in December 2020 and January 2021, when HTS released videos showing him visiting local IDP camps and listening to residents' requests.
The above photograph shows Al-Joulani posing with a group of local tribal leaders.
The video clip shows a tribal sheikh welcoming Al-Joulani and expressing the hope that by next Eid Al-Fitr "Allah will have granted us victory and this meeting will be in Damascus." The HTS leader asserts that the events of recent days, in which Palestinians and Israeli Arabs in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel have attacked Israelis in retaliation for Israel's perceived aggression against Palestinians, have "renewed the Islamic spirit in the Islamic world" and demonstrated "great popular sympathy" with the Palestinian cause from across the Arab and Islamic world to a level that has not been seen in the past 20 to 25 years, proving that more than 70 years after Israel's establishment, the Islamic world has still not lost interest in Palestine.
Al-Joulani adds that a "very welcome matter" is that the "Arabs of '48" (i.e. Israeli Arabs) have "mobilized with all their strength" to participate in the ongoing "intifada" against Israel, asserting that this is a greater "danger to the Jews" than rockets fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza. Noting that Arab citizens of Israel "were educated by Jews and taught by Jews" and that Israel has tried to make generations of Israeli Arabs coexist with Jews and "forget the Palestinian cause," Al-Joulani expresses satisfaction that "all the Jews' programs […] have failed," adding: "We ask Allah to ordain that [the struggle against Israel] continue and be received well."
In the above screenshot, a local tribal leader welcomes Al-Joulani and expresses the hope that next year they will meet in a rebel-controlled Damascus.
The above screenshot shows Al-Joulani speaking to tribal leaders and praising the current "intifada" against Israel.
After one of the tribal leaders mentions the current situation in the "liberated areas" and expresses hope for an "imminent victory," Al-Joulani asserts that "the current stage is one of preparation and building institutions, in preparation for a great war," adding that every rebel institution built is "a step towards Damascus."
The HTS leader further claims that "the regime may collapse at any time," noting that the Assad regime is suffering from a difficult economic, political, and social situation and asserting that the only thing keeping the regime from collapsing is "the Russian planes which protect it." He therefore declares that the rebels need to build institutions so that the country does not descend into chaos when the regime collapses, stating: "We are not thinking only about liberating Syria from this regime. We are also thinking about how we will build it in the future." Al-Joulani declares that "building is harder than [waging] war."
Al-Joulani further stresses the important role of Bedouin tribes in the Idlib area, stating: "We are trying to revive what Hafez Al-Assad killed," as the Ba'athist Assad sought to politically marginalize Syrian tribes. Al-Joulani praises the tribes' devotion to Islam and their traditional Bedouin values of "Arabness and bravery," declaring that these values should be preserved among the tribes and spread to the entire population.
Another three-minute video released on May 17 shows the HTS leader meeting with "a group of people with rights and grievances to provide redress for them." Among those present at the meeting were people who had lost family members in accidents, to whom HTS had paid blood money.
In the video, Al-Joulani says that "violations" and "mistakes" are bound to happen in any society, but that the judicial system, which has recently been unified in the "liberated areas," allows a person who has been wronged, even by the authorities, to bring forward an accusation and receive justice, "even if his claim is against any party – whichever it is – in the liberated areas." The HTS leader declares that the rebels wage jihad to ensure justice, asserting that even a person who "was forced to forgo his rights" can complain to the judiciary and receive his due.
Al-Joulani is shown above meeting with "a group of people with rights and grievances," declaring that anyone in the Idlib area can submit a claim to the judicial system if he has been wronged, and receive justice.
One of the men present, whose daughter was killed in a vehicular accident, praises the judicial authorities for their concern about the common people, noting that he received compensation from the authorities for his daughter's death. Another man, whose son was killed unintentionally, praises the authorities for ensuring that he was paid blood money in full. A third man who was owed money for "financial issues" thanks the judicial system for facilitating a "reconciliation" in which he received a sum of money due to him. A tribal sheikh also thanks HTS for helping him to receive a sum of money that was due to him in compensation.
In the above screenshot, a man whose daughter was killed in a vehicular accident praises the judicial authorities for providing him with compensation.
The above screenshot shows tribal leader Sheikh Fares Abu 'Akramah Al-Hasan Al-Kilani thanking HTS for helping him to receive compensation due to him.
 See MEMRI JTTM Report: Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) Cracks Down On Competition, Forbids Rival Factions To Operate In Syria's Idlib, July 1, 2020.
 See MEMRI JTTM Reports: In Bid To Boost Its Popularity, Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) Releases Photos Of Leader Al-Joulani With Wounded Fighters, Orphans, Tribal Leaders, May 28, 2020; Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) Releases Photos Of Leader Al-Joulani Visiting Fighters, Meeting Locals, Distributing Gifts To Children, August 4, 2020.
 See MEMRI JTTM Reports: HTS Leader Al-Joulani Visits IDP Camps In First Appearance Since U.S. Ups Bounty On His Head, December 24, 2020; HTS Releases Photos Of Al-Joulani Meeting IDPs, Aid To Camps, January 24, 2021.
 Telegram.me/ Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham – Private, May 13, 2021.
 Telegram.me/NASER_DlEN, May 15, 2021.
 HTS issued a statement condemning Israel and expressing support for Palestinians on May 11, 2021, although the statement did not call for violence. See MEMRI JTTM Report: Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS): Israel Purposely Choose Ramadan To Attack Aqsa Mosque To Provoke Muslims, May 12, 2021.
 Telegram.me/ Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham – Private, May 17, 2021.