HTS halts offensive in northern Syria as Turkey moves to end inter-rebel clashes

HTS halts offensive in northern Syria as Turkey moves to end inter-rebel clashes
The hardline Islamist group HTS has ceased its offensive in northern Syria after Turkey moved to separate warring rebel factions following the HTS capture of Afrin.
2 min read
19 October, 2022
Turkish troops entered the village of Kafr Jannah in northern Syria [Getty]

An uneasy calm prevailed in rebel-held northwestern Syria on Wednesday morning following several days of fighting between the hardline Islamist Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group and Turkish-backed rebel factions, which saw HTS take control of the Afrin area and approach the city of Azaz.

Until recently, Afrin and the surrounding area were held by fighters from the "Syrian National Army" (SNA) and other Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups.

Turkey intervened on Monday to stop the fighting. Fighters from a rebel group called Hay'at Thaeroon (the Revolutionaries’ Authority) intervened to separate HTS and the Third Corps of the Syrian National Army, which had clashed for over a week.

At least 58 people have been killed in the fighting, while thousands of people have been forced to flee homes and refugee camps.

On Monday HTS took control of the villages of Kafr Jannah and Qatmah, only five kilometres from the city of Azaz. However later reports said that the hardline Islamist group withdrew.

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Sources close to the SNA told The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed  that HTS had agreed to Turkish demands to withdraw from areas it captured on Monday, handing over positions to Hay’at Thaeroon, which had remained neutral in the clashes, and the Turkish army.

The sources said that Turkish troops had entered Kafr Jannah and other villages nearby in force, saying this had signalled Ankara’s refusal to let HTS enter Azaz and other areas of northern Aleppo province held by pro-Turkish rebel groups since 2016.

But Hisham Askif, a spokesman for the SNA’s Third Corps, denied that HTS had withdrawn from Kafr Jannah.

"There have been promises that HTS would withdraw from the area but they haven’t been implemented as of yet," he told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Askif confirmed that Thaeroon fighters were separating the HTS and SNA in order to prevent further clashes. He expressed concern however that areas recently captured by HTS would be targeted by Russian airstrikes.

Russia intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015 on the side of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, enabling the regime to recapture most of the territory once held by Syrian rebels.

A Turkish diplomatic source told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that Turkey was "closely following developments" and negotiating with Syrian factions "to reach a permanent solution which will guarantee security in the area".

The Afrin area, now under the control of HTS, was captured by Turkey and allied Syrian rebel groups from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in February 2018.

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