With clashes ongoing in and around Al-Eis in southern Aleppo, new military reports indicate that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has long-term goals of reaching the besieged towns of Fuah and Kafraya which are located near Idlib city, the de facto capital of the Jaish al-Fateh (Islamist rebel) coalition.
One year ago, this Idlib-based rebel coalition was able to seize the vast majority of the province, including the provincial capital itself. However, a tiny government-held pocket with a predominately Shiite population was never captured by rebel forces as the latter quickly agreed to a ceasefire with entrenched government soldiers in Fuah and Kafraya.
Surprisingly, this explains the large presence of volunteer pro-government fighters from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon in southern Aleppo. Long-term, these foreign fighters intend to liberate the Shiite population in Fuah and Kafraya from hostile Jaish al-Fateh militants.
With fighters from various Shiite factions – including Hezbollah (Lebanese paramilitary), the Iranian 65th Airborne Special Forces Brigade (Iranian military), Kata’ib Hezbollah (Iraqi paramilitary), Harakat Al-Nujaba (Iraqi paramilitary) Liwaa Abu Fadl Al-Abbas (Iraqi paramilitary) and Firqa Fatayyemoun (Afghan/Iranian volunteers) – deployed to southern Aleppo, this combined fighting force is expected to strike west and eventually reach the government-held Shiite enclave on the northern outskirts of Idlib city.
Currently, some 25 kilometers split these two areas apart. Nevertheless, the Russian Air Force seems more than willing to side with pro-government Shiite forces as the latter is fighting al-Qaeda groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Jund al-Aqsa.
However, Jabhat al-Nusra is reportedly redeploying their fighters from other governorate as to reinforce the rebel-held territory in eastern Idlib.
While some analysts have argued the Syrian Government is merely using these foreign fighters as cannon fodder, several SAA units are meanwhile attacking western Idlib through the eastern countryside of Lattakia province. Here, the Desert Hawks Brigade and Syrian Marines are attempting to reach the rebel stronghold of Jisr al-Shughur.
If Jisr al-Shughur is lost to government soldiers, the Jaish al-Fateh coalition will suddenly find itself having to defend three separate frontlines; one in western Idlib, one in eastern Idlib and one in northern Hama.