On January 18, ISIS fighters captured thirty villages in northeastern Hama and southwestern Aleppo from Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), according to Syrian opposition sources.
The villages that were supposedly captured by ISIS are:
Rasm al-Dhaba, al-Muwaylah, abu Ajwa, Muakar Shamali, Rasm al-Basl, Tawrat, Mushirifah, Rasm Arira, Qarat Rubua’, Thaniyat Al-Sawan, Zaghir, Abu Mahalah, al-Hanin, al-Janina, al-Khatabiyah, Luwaybidah, al-Jadidah, Nafha, Andarin, al-Samaqiyah, Huma, Najm Al-Zuhur, Umm Qurun, al-Mashulkhiyah, al-Halibiyah, al-Salihiyah, Abu Khanadiq, Umm Aj, Malihah Saghirah and Awijat al-Qana.
The ISIS-linked news agency Amaq has not yet confirmed these claims. However, ISIS usually announce such major advances in special video releases for propaganda purposes.
From its side, HTS has not denied the opposition sources claims. This could mean that ISIS fighters really captured all of these villages after HTS fighters had withdrawn from them to avoid being besieged by the SAA.
Syrian opposition activist claimed on January 17 that ISIS captured several villages and towns in the southeastern Idlib countryside including the strategic Sinjar town from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). However, these claims later appeared to be fake news.
The pro-opposition news outlet Enab Baladi also reported that ISIS fighters are currently trying to reach the SAA-held Tell Daman in the southwestern Aleppo countryside in order to open a route towards Idlib governorate.
If ISIS reaches Idlib governorate it may be able to recruit new fighters and further expand into the heartland of the so-called moderate opposition.