DAMASCUS, SYRIA (1:20 A.M.) – On Thursday, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS/Al-Qaeda) recaptured many towns in Idlib’s countryside, including Sahab, Barabo, Tall Hawash, Al-Hamirat, Tarmala and Al-Toba along a number of towns seized from Ahrar Al-Sham the day before.
On the other hand, HTS belligerents suddenly had to withdrew from Saraqib city after disenfranchised residents drove them out of city, located on the M5-highway.
In northern Idlib, militants loyal to HTS stormed the Babsqah mountain chain, resulting in heavy ongoing clashes with Ahrar Al-Sham. A separate Al-Qaeda attack towards the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing was thwarted by Ahrar Al-Sham, leading to the death of five HTS members:
In total, over 40 rebel militants have been killed and upwards of 100 injured due to the past 48 hours of ongoing infighting across Idlib. HTS is said to have lost 15 fighters so far with 10 more surrendering themselves to Ahrar Al-Sham on Thursday alone.
In contrast, HTS has arrested over a dozen Ahrar Al-Sham members, including three high-ranking commanders during the initial takeover of Saraqib.
In related news, the powerful jihadist group ‘Harakat Nour Al-Din Al-Zenki’ officially left HTS on Thursday afternoon, stating it did not wish to participate in the infighting.
As this faction then began to disengage from its strongholds in western Aleppo, HTS demanded their fighters to immediately surrender all their technicals and armored vehicles. Thus, another escalation is brewing as HTS threatened to send a convoy towards western Aleppo to browbeat Harakat Nour Al-Din Al-Zenki into submission if the group failed to comply.
Meanwhile, Ahrar Al-Sham called on reinforcements from Turkey to help beat back HTS’ ongoing crackdown which in many ways can be compared to how ISIS expelled opposition forces from eastern Syria in early 2014 only to proclaim a caliphate a few months later.
Consequently, rebel factions in Idlib could possibly pay a heavy price for their longstanding somewhat pragmatic alliance with Al-Qaeda (formerly Jabhat Al-Nusra, now HTS) that has rebranded itself many times despite maintaining the same jihadist leadership which has never disguised its desire for a regional caliphate.