On February 20, clashes erupted between the former branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and Syria’s Liberation Front (SLF) in the western Aleppo countryside and the southern Idlib countryside, according to local sources.
Sources close to HTS said that the SLF had provoked the clashes attacking several positions and headquarters of HTS in western Aleppo .
The Ahrar al-Sham Movement and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement merged to form the SLF on February 19. They announced that the new group will stand against anyone who works against “the revolution’s forces”, in a clear hint to HTS.
The clashes expanded on February 21 and included most of the areas of Idlib governorate. Heavy weapons including battle tanks and rocket launchers were used by the both sides, according to Syrian opposition activists.
The SLF was indeed able to capture the town of Maarrat al-Nu’man in southern Idlib and the villages of Tramla, Kafr Rumah and Wadi Deif area around it. The strategic town of Ariha in western Idlib was also captured by the SLF, according to Syrian opposition sources.
However, the HTS-linked news agency Iba’a reported that HTS fighters had advanced in western Aleppo and captured the villages of Taked, A’ajel, Bsrton and the al-Furqan housing complex.
According to Iba’a, two HTS fighters were killed and four others were injured during the clashes with the SLF in southern idlib. The agency claimed that in western Aleppo, the SLF had lost many of its fighters and 20 SLF members had surrendered to HTS.
Experts believe that HTS is currently focusing on attacking the heartland of the SLF, the western Aleppo countryside, and is withdrawing its troops from the southern idlib countryside that’s besieged by it. After capturing the western Aleppo countryside, HTS will likely launch n operation against the SLF in the southern Idlib countryside.
HTS won all the military confrontations with the Ahrar al-Sham Movement and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement between 2015 and 2017, mainly because of a large support it has in northern Syria.