Inter-rebel clashes spread around northwest Syria's Afrin as HTS, SNA factional peace talks fail
Clashes between rival rebel militias in northwest Syria have become more widespread after talks to strike a reconciliation deal failed, sources told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site.
It had been hoped talks on Friday between hardline Islamist militia Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and factions from the Turkish-backed "Syrian National Army (SNA)" militia group would put an end to days of deadly clashes in and around the city of Afrin in northwestern Aleppo province.
Negotiations between the warring groups failed due to the "unrealistic and unbalanced" demands made by the HTS, Abu el-Ezz Ariha, a commander for the SNA's Third Corps told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
Ariha said that after the negotiations failed, the HTS and allied factions attacked areas held by the Third Corps near Afrin and Azaz.
Clashes lasted an hour but ended after the Third Corps received reinforcements and were able to beat back the HTS, he added.
The HTS, which controls much of Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, has overrun areas in and around the city of Afrin after fierce fighting with SNA factions in recent weeks.
The hardline Islamists took over the Afrin Military Hospital in addition to several villages and hills overlooking the city, reports said Thursday.
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.
The opposition "Syrian Interim Government", which is supported by Turkey and formed the SNA in 2017, claimed on Friday that it had regained full control of Afrin and pushed out the HTS.
However, local sources told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that HTS members were still present in the city, though scattered.
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.
Both the HTS and the SNA have been accused of human righs abuses in northern Syria, including indiscriminate shelling and kidnappings.