On February 9, ISIS fighters attacked positions of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and its allies in the southeastern Idlib countryside. Syrian opposition sources reported that ISIS fighters had captured the villages of Umm Khalakil, Luwaybidah and Musharifah.
The ISIS attack began only few hours after the SAA captured ISIS pocket in the northeastern Hama countryside. Several opposition activists said that the SAA had opened a route for ISIS from the northeastern Hama countryside towards the southeastern Idlib countryside.
Between 300 and 400 fighters of ISIS armed with battle tanks, armored vehicles and ATGMs participated in the attack on HTS in southeastern Idlib, according to opposition activists. The numbers are likely overestimated.
ISIS launched a similar attack against HTS in the northeastern Hama countryside on October 9, 2017. Back then, opposition activists also claimed that the SAA had opened a route for ISIS. However, HTS acknowledged later that ISIS fighters had sneaked in as civilians.
From its side, Syrian pro-government sources said that the besieged ISIS fighters in the northeastern Hama countryside pocket were able to breakthrough the SAA defense lines in the western side of the pocket. According to the sources, the SAA didn’t reinforce its western and eastern flanks before its final push against the besieged ISIS fighters in the pocket. This led to the current situation.
ISIS fighters will likely be able to hold into the positions they captured in the southeastern Idlib countryside and maybe even expand their control there in the upcoming days.