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Since June Islamic State has launched a series of spectacular counterattacks in a two-pronged line of effort targeting Kurdish and government forces [Bashar al-Assad] in northern Syria. Thus, ISIS launched an offensive against Hasaka City, conducting suicide attacks and seizing the government-held southwestern neighborhoods of the city. On July 16, government units and the national backup forces cut off ISIS supply route from al-Shaddadi and al-Meilabiyeh around Hasaka. It was few days after another supply route from Jisr Abyad in the southwestern side of Hasaka city had been blocked. Then the army re-took control of the main electricity transmission stations on the southern outskirts of Hasaka city.
Meanwhile, from thirty to forty Islamic State militants disguised in Kurdish YPG and the US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel uniforms infiltrated the Kurdish border town of Ayn al-Arab, detonating two SVBIEDs at the border crossing to Turkey and clashing with YPG forces.
ISIS’s synchronized attacks in northern Syria is the part of an overarching campaign to set conditions for further advances in the country. The attacks in Ayn al-Arab and Hasaka City appear designed to disrupt ongoing YPG-led anti-ISIS operations in northern ar-Raqqa Province in order to divert pressure away from core ISIS terrain in ar-Raqqa City. The scale of the ISIS offensive against Hasaka City also suggests that ISIS may intend to seize the city to offset recent losses to Kurdish and rebel forces along the Syrian-Turkish border. ISIS also launched a counterattack against joint YPG-FSA forces in Ayn Issa north of ar-Raqqa City on July 5 which included at least two SVBIED detonations; clashes are ongoing.
In late June, Al Assad government deployed reinforcements including the ‘Tiger Forces’ Special Forces unit to the western countryside of Palmyra conducting clashes with ISIS west of the city, nearby Sha’er and Jazal Gas Fields. The government’s offensive actions are aimed to recapture the city of Palmyra from ISIS forces. However, it hasn’t yet occurred.
Then Lebanese Hezbollah and Syrian Armed Forces announced the start of an offensive to seize the rebel-held town of Zabadani northwest of Damascus near the Lebanese border on July 2. Zabadani occupies a key position near supply routes connecting Damascus to Hezbollah positions in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley. Clashes are currently ongoing as Hezbollah and governments forces attempt to enter the town from the west clashes with JN, Ahrar al-Sham, and other terrorist factions.
ISIS’s attacks in Ayn al-Arab, Hasaka and Ayn Issa demonstrate that local losses in northern Syria didn’t impact the Islamic State capability to conduct military operations. Alternately, reports indicating that ISIS may have accepted a degree of calculated risk north of ar-Raqqa City in order to conserve resources for new lines of effort targeting Hasaka City, central Syria and other regions of the country.
Very same time The Fatah Halab Operations Room announced the start of the “Battle of Fatah Halab” to seize full control over Syrian government-held portions of Aleppo City. So-called “moderate” and Islamist rebel forces attempted to break into the New Aleppo and az-Zahraa neighborhoods of northwestern Aleppo City. Meanwhile, JN and a number of Salafi-jihadist rebel factions also announced the formation of the Ansar al-Sharia Operations Room on July 2 and launched a parallel offensive against Syrian government forces’ positions in the az-Zahraa district.
In the same context, the successful defense of Aleppo and Dera’a cities by Syrian government forces risks overextending their defensive capabilities. The Assad government appears vulnerable to an offensive by ISIS against the Syrian central corridor while Syrian Armed Forces are fixed in northern and southern Syria.
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