Fighting and infighting in Syria

Fighting and infighting in Syria
Analysis: After a successful opposition offensive in Idlib province, the advance appears to have decelerated after infighting between rebels and allies in other provinces, says Adnan Ali
3 min read
01 June, 2015
YPG troops and rebels have come close to all-out fighting [AFP]
Following rebel successes in Idlib province, a major battle is now expected in Aleppo, as opposition fighters are looking to tie-up their campaigns against the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis).

Jaish al-Fateh ["Army of Conquest"] comprises 22,000 fighters, and was formed with the aim of flushing IS militants and regime forces alike out of Syria.

Their recent "lightning advance" in Idlib province showed that they are a significant threat to Damascus. 

Battle for the north

However, since Thursday, IS tanks and mortars have hit rebel-held villages and towns north of Aleppo in an attempt to advance on opposition-controlled areas. Heavy fighting followed, with IS taking control of al-Tawqali, a strategically important village.

Fighting continued on Friday, with 21 people left dead in an IS advance on Suran, a town in northern Aleppo. Rebel troops said that they managed to recapture the town after reinforcements arrived.

However, IS shells have forced most residents to flee Suran, while barrel bombs have also been dropped on opposition-held areas from regime aircraft. 

A Levant Front counter-attack also helped the armed opposition retake other villages, and parts of al-Tawqali - including the Qara Khoja chemical factory. 

A road between Aleppo city's infantry school and Umm al-Qura has been opened. 

IS still keeps hold of al-Shahbaa Dam, however, while fighting continues in Azaz and Marea.

IS pulled out of the northern Aleppo countryside in March 2014 after many of its foot soldiers and commanders - including Haji Bakr, the group's master tactician - were killed in battles with armed opposition groups. 

Despite IS pushing back rebel forces in al-Hasaka, close to the Turkish border, tensions are rising between Arab and Kurdish militias.

Bickering turned to outright fighting in Aleppo on Friday, as a group of opposition fighters reportedly clashed with militants from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). 

Leaders are appealing for calm, but the dispute appears to centre on a previous agreement that calls on the Kurdish group to release Arab prisoners and allow opposition troops into al-Sheikh Maqsoud district, north of Aleppo.

Last year, Syrian opposition units alleged that Kurdish gunmen forcibly removed the headscarf from a veiled woman in the town, leading to a dispute between the two groups.
     Nusra accuses the Kurdish authorities of banning women from wearing the veil and forbidding the call to prayer.

Extremist threat

Worryingly, al-Nusra - al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise - has threatened to intervene to "keep the YPG militias in check in the al-Sheikh Maqsoud district".

Nusra accuses the Kurdish authorities of collaborating with the Assad regime, banning women from wearing the veil and forbidding the call to prayer in areas they control. 

A Nusra operative also claimed that the YPG had destroyed a number of homes in the Arab village of Tal Amar, south of Kobane.

Fighters in the Euphrates Volcano anti-IS union - an umbrella group of Kurdish and rebel forces - also reportedly set fire to trees and crops around Arab villages near Kobane, claiming it was clearing the area of IS landmines.

IS and Jaish al-Islam have, meanwhile, also clashed in the Damascus countryside. Jaish al-Islam claimed to have killed eight IS fighters in eastern Qalamoun.

In Daraa, heavy fighting broke out between opposition groups and the Yarmouk Martyrs' Brigade, its fighters having allegedly sworn loyalty to IS.

Ahrar al-Sham, yet another armed Syrian opposition group, claimed to have overrun several Yarmouk positions after an hour-long battle that left 10 people dead.

The group also said it had kicked out Yarmouk fighters from a number of other villages in the province.

Rebels forces are on the advance in Daraa, and now the province's capital, currently held by the regime, could be the next target of the opposition.

On Saturday, protests took place in Daraa city's liberated districts against the rebels' delays in freeing the rest of the city. 

Insiders blame factionalism in the rebel camp for the delay, and say that opposition fighters in Daraa lack ammunition and heavy weaponry to mount an offensive on regime-held areas.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.