Talk to Al Jazeera

Hassan Abboud: ‘We will fight for our rights’

The slain leader of one of Syria’s main rebel groups spoke to Al Jazeera last year about his group’s ideology and goals.

Hassan Abboud was head of one of Syria’s most powerful rebel groups, the Ahrar al-Sham brigade. He was killed along with dozens of other commanders in a suicide bomb attack in Idlib on September 9, 2014. This is an exclusive interview Abboud gave to Al Jazeera’s Sami Zeidan in December 2013 where he discusses his group’s objectives and his country’s future.

As diplomats engage in diplomacy, world powers give their blessings, and a date is announced for a conference to bring peace to Syria, the war continues to take its toll on the fractured Syrian nation.

The regime is not sure what it will do at the Geneva II peace talks, but says it will participate. And the political opposition, favoured by the West, says it will show up too, after a little arm twisting by foreign backers.

But what about the armed groups actually fighting in the country and the civilians the conference is supposed to bring peace to?

On the ground in Syria, Geneva feels like it is a world away. Civilians struggle for survival, combatants cling tightly to their weapons, and few – it seems – are hoping for a diplomatic breakthrough.

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, the leader of the most powerful armed group in Syria, says he will not abide by anything agreed to in Geneva.

Hassan Abboud, the leader of  Ahrar al-Sham says of the talks: “We see Geneva as a tool of manipulation; to derail the Syrian revolution away from its goals and objectives …. Whatever outcome the conference may yield, will be binding on the Syrian National Coalition only. For us, we will continue to fight for our revolution until we restore our rights.”

Talk to Al Jazeera travelled inside a Syria rarely visited by foreign journalists these days. We wanted to gauge sentiments towards the upcoming peace conference.

For many civilians the biggest concern is getting bread, not negotiators, on the table. Ahrar al-Sham says they know this well, and when they are not fighting they are running bakeries, distributing aid, establishing courts, reopening schools and even freeing Western journalists abducted by other armed groups.

They advocate an Islamic state which protects the rights of women and religious and ethnic minorities and say they disagree with the approach of al-Qaeda.

However, they have also been accused of abuses against civilians and are viewed with suspicion in the West.

Either way, they are likely to have a big say in any post-war order, so Talk to Al Jazeera sits down with Hassan Abboud, the leader of Ahrar al-Sham to talk about Syria’s future.