DAMASCUS, SYRIA (10:30 P.M.) – In a remarkable turn of events, hundreds of Islamist fighters are being transferred from northern Aleppo to Hatay (Iskenderun) province where they are meeting up with allied Turkish troops as we speak.
This combined fighting force, once known as the Euphrates Shield, is now waiting for permission from Ankara to launch a major cross-border military intervention which ultimately looks to defeat or weaken Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).
Over the past 24 hours alone, HTS has expelled Ahrar Al-Sham from a handful of towns across rural Idlib. The Al-Qaeda affiliated HTS has also purged several Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups in Maarat Al-Numan and Saraqib, vowing to arrest anyone collaborating with the Euphrates Shield forces.
Since a coalition of jihadist groups merged into what is now known as HTS barely six months ago, the group has gradually become the largest rebel fighting force in all of Syria, thereby dethroning Ahrar Al-Sham from this long-standing position.
The Turkish Armed Forces are frequently rumoured to be planning offensives striking into Syria; however, the only major military campaign launched by Ankara remains the Euphrates Shield operation that saw ISIS expelled from its last stretch of border with Turkey in 2016 and subsequently, the establishment of the so-called Jarabulus pocket in northern Aleppo where Turkish troops and allied proxies remain deployed.
The photo above shows a Ahrar Al-Sham fighter standing at a Turkish military checkpoint near the border with Idlib. Turkmen fighters of the FSA are also being deployed to this area.