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The joint Russian-Turkish patrol set to be held in southern Idlib on July 29 was delayed due to increased military tensions and the inability of Ankara to ensure the security of the patrol in its area of responsibility. And the situation does not seem to be improving.
According to pro-militant sources, on the evening of July 29th and morning of July 30th, the Syrian Army launched over 500 shells at militants’ positions in the Zawiya Mount area, including Kansafra, al-Bara, Kafar Aweed, Fatterah and Erinah. In response, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its allies struck Syrian Army checkpoints at Kafr Nabl, As Safa, Hakoura and in nearby areas.
In the last few days, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Turkistan Islamic Party reinforced their positions on the contact line with the Syrian Army, south of the M4 highway. Their forces reportedly remain on high alert. Pro-government sources say that the inability of Ankara to secure another joint patrol in southern Idlib is a signal that the militants are preparing for offensive actions there.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Army uncovered a hideout that had been used by militants working as organ traders in the village of al-Ghadfah in southern Idlib. According to Syria’s state-run news agency SANA, government forces found human organs, including hearts, livers and heads in the hideout. The organs were preserved in jars with chloroform. The jars carried the names of the victims. Personal IDs of the victims, men and women, were also found in the hideout.
The hideout included a room designated for religious studies with radical ideological publications. This indicates that the site had belonged to one of the multiple militant groups that still operate in Greater Idlib thanks to the Turkish opposition to counter-terrorism operations there.
Al-Ghadfah is located in the vicinity of the city of Maarat al-Numan and for a long time it has been controlled by Turkey’s main partner in Idlib – Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The town was liberated by the Syrian Army and its allies in January 2020.
Lt. Sharif al-Nazzal of the Syrian Military Intelligence Directorate (MID) was assassinated in the town of Sahem al-Golan in western Daraa on July 29. The lieutenant was with another intelligence officer known as “Abu Haider”, when they were attacked by unidentified gunmen. Both officers were shot dead on the spot.
Opposition sources claimed that al-Nazzal, a native of Sahem al-Golan, was close to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iranian forces. The officer headed a detachment of the MID in the western Daraa countryside. No group has claimed responsibility for the assassination. Nonetheless, in previous stages of the conflict Israel was extensively supporting militant groups in southern Syria. It is possible that Tel Aviv may have access to cells of these groups for support with particular operations.
Two members of the US-backed Revolutionary Commando Army militant group based in al-Tanf were detained by the Syrian Army near the US-controlled zone. The detained persons were moving on a motorcycle and possessed assault rifles and night-vision goggles. They were reportedly involved in an information gathering operation about civilian and military facilities in the Homs desert.
In the past, Damascus has repeatedly claimed that the US was planning to use its proxies in al-Tanf for destabilizing operations in the government-controlled area.