On Tuesday morning, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) and its allies launched an a large attack against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the National Defense Forces (NDF) in estern Hama in a firece attempt to assist anti-government forces in the ongoing battle for Deir Ezzor.
The joint militant forces stormed government positions in Ma’an, Tulaysiyah and Ash Shata. According to pro-militant sources, the SAA and the NDF were pushed to retreat from Tulaysiyah and Ash Shata. The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) advance near Ma’an was repelled.
The Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Arab Air Force (SAAF) responded with multiple airstrikes on HTS positions across the northern Hama and southern Idlib countrysides.
The fighting is ongoing.
According to Syrian experts, the HTS-led operation pursues two goals:
- To undermine the Strian-Iranian-Russian-Turkish effort to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib province;
- To assist anti-government forces in the ongoing battle for Deir Ezzor. The HTS-led advance should force the SAA to re-deploy large forces from the Deir Ezzor countryside and to halt its operation against ISIS on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. This contributes to the both ISIS and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
The advance cannot be described as an effort to assist ISIS units encircled east of Salamiyah, north of the Homs-Palmyra highway because they are in a no-win situation there and the HTS advance cannot change this.
Meanwhile, rumors are circulating that Syria, Russia and Turkey have reached an agreement to conduct a joint offensive against HTS in the northern and southern parts of Idlib province. However, this is not likely because the large-scale operation in Idlib will slow down the SAA advance against ISIS in eastern Syria.
Turkey is reportedly withdrawing some of its proxies and journalists of pro-Turkish outlets from Idlib province.
— Elijah J. Magnier (@ejmalrai) 18 September 2017
Russian Aerospace Forces destroy military equipment belonging to terrorists in the Hama countryside:
Photos of airstrikes: