A fierce battle involving al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and several Turkish-backed factions is currently taking place in the northern countryside of Syria’s Aleppo.
The battle broke out on October 10 when the Turkish-backed 3rd Corps, led by the al-Shamiya Front, kicked off an operation against the Hamzah Division which was reportedly behind the October 7 assassination of opposition activist Mohammed Abdullatif, “Abu Ghanoum,” and his pregnant wife.
Initially, the 3rd Corps managed to expel the Hamzah Division from the city of al-Bab, the main stronghold of Turkish forces in the northern Aleppo countryside. However, the battel escalated on October 11, when the Suleyman Shah Division, another Turkish-backed faction, intervened in support of the Hamzah Division.
Late on October 11, the 3rd Corps expanded offensive to the area of Afrin. In response, al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the de-facto ruler of the Greater Idlib region, dispatched a large, heavily-armed force to Afrin via the crossing of Ghazzawiyya and Dayr Balut to support the Hamzah Division and the Suleyman Shah Division.
HTS’s intervention turned the tides. The 3rd Corps failed to make any meaningful progress in the southern part of Afrin, despite receiving support from a large coalition of Turkish-backed factions known as the Liberation and Construction Movement.
By October 12 morning, HTS’s force managed to reach the outskirts of Afrin city center. However, it sustained heavy losses as a result of the fierce resistance of the 3rd Corps and its allies.
Currently, heavy clashes are taking place in the towns of al-Basouta, Kerzayhel, and Ain Dara in Afrin as well as in the nearby area of Atimah.
According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the battle in the northern Aleppo countryside has so far claimed the lives of nine people, four militants from HTS, three from the al-Shamiya Front and two civilians. Many others were wounded.
The Turkish military, who maintains dozens of positions in the northern Aleppo countryside as well as in Greater Idlib, has not intervened, yet.
The ongoing battle highlights HTS’s attempts to expand its influence into the northern Aleppo countryside. This was not the first time the terrorist group invades Afrin to support its allies there. The group made a similar move back in June to support the Ahrar al-Sham Movement against the Shamiya Front.
The battle also exposes the major differences between Turkish-backed factions in the northern Aleppo countryside, who are all supposed to be unified within the Syrian National Army.
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