Syria: HTS captures Afrin from Turkish-backed rebels

Syria: HTS captures Afrin from Turkish-backed rebels
The hardline Islamist HTS has captured the city of Afrin from the Turkish-backed 'Syrian National Army' although fighting is ongoing in the area.
2 min read
14 October, 2022
Afrin sits close to the Turkish border in rebel-held northwestern Syria [Getty/archive]

A hardline Islamist militia controlling much of Syria’s northwest has overrun areas in and around the city of Afrin after fierce fighting with rival Syrian rebel factions backed by Turkey.

Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) took over the Afrin Military Hospital in addition to several villages and hills overlooking Afrin, which is close to the Syrian-Turkish frontier and northwest of Aleppo, reports said Thursday.

Colonel Abdel Salam Hamidi, the head of military operations in the Turkish-backed "Syrian National Army (SNA)" told The New Arab’s sister site, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, that the group’s Third Division withdrew from Afrin on Thursday after HTS took over to avoid inner-city fighting and civilian casualties.

He added that the SNA had stood its ground outside Afrin and was stopping HTS from taking over more locations.

Until 2018, Afrin, a Kurdish-majority city, was a stronghold of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia. However, that year Turkey and its allied Syrian militias launched an operation against the YPG and captured the city and surrounding area.

Many Kurdish residents fled while displaced people from other parts of Syria moved in.

Intermittent fighting continued Friday between the HTS and SNA as the former tried and failed to make further advances in the area, reports said.

Hamidi said the SNA had captured a tank belonging to the formerly Al-Qaeda affiliated HTS and detained some of their fighters. 

Sources told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that negotiations between the two sides to end the fighting have failed.

However a prisoner exchange was carried out through mediation by local clan leaders. Eight SNA fighters were swapped for 15 HTS members.

About four million people live in rebel-held areas of Syria, many of them displaced from elsewhere in Syria by the war that began in 2011 after Bashar al-Assad's regime crushed peaceful protest.

The Syrian rebels are fragmented into a myriad of different groups, with HTS, a hardline Islamist group previously affiliated to Al-Qaeda, dominating most of Idlib province, while Turkish-backed groups control Azaz, Al-Bab and other cities near the Syrian-Turkish border.

HTS formed a civilian arm known as the Syrian Salvation Government in 2017 to administer the territory it holds, while Turkey supports a rival opposition "Syrian Interim Government".