Hardline militants from Ha’yat Tahrir a-Sham locked down the site of a coalition raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi earlier this month, barring individuals from entering or exiting the area. The raid followed an intense winter storm that devastated IDP camps across north-west Syria, destroying hundreds of tents as two children froze to death in the frigid conditions. Poor conditions for local Syrians were confounded by several outbreaks of violence along frontline positions in the north-west, the deadliest of which saw eight civilians killed in an alleged SDF shelling of Al-Bab in eastern Aleppo.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-West Syria – 9th February 2022
Military Situation in North-West Syria
- Regime violations: Regime forces continue to repeatedly shell towns and villages near frontlines with the opposition in southern Idlib, western Hama province and northern Aleppo province. Regime artillery killed a woman in Marimeen in the Afrin area of northern Aleppo (20.1), with the strike injuring several other civilians. An earlier regime artillery attack injured a woman in Kansafra in southern Idlib (8.1).
- Russian violations: Russian warplanes attacked targets in Idlib province on six separate occasions over the last several weeks, beginning with a New Year’s Day missile strike near Jisr a-Shaghour in rural western Idlib (1.1). Russian warplanes launched additional missile strikes in the southern Idlib towns of Al-Bara (15.01, 17.01) and Kafer Shalaya (3.2, 6.2), as well as the northern Idlib town of Kafarya (21.01).
- Attacks on Turkish positions: The regime attacked Turkish observation posts on two separate occasions over the last month. A regime artillery shell struck a Turkish military base in Kansafra in rural southern Idlib (16.1), with another shell falling in close proximity to the base just days later (20.1). A local source indicated that five fighters guarding the Turkish position were injured in the second strike.
- Extremist-regime clashes: The radical Fateh al-Mabin operations room repelled several attempts by the regime to advance along frontline positions, utilizing machinegun fire to repel regime fighters advancing along the Safuhun frontline in the Jabal a-Zawiye region of southern Idlib (14.1). A second attempt by regime fighters to advance towards Saraqeb in eastern Idlib was countered by Fateh al-Mabin snipers, with clashes erupting following the regime’s failed attempt (27.1). Fateh al-Mabin utilized snipers to strike at regime positions, killing a regime fighter in Miznaz in rural southern Aleppo (2.2), as well as another near Kafranbel in southern Idlib (6.1).
- Extremist offensives: Fateh al-Mabin launched several artillery shells at regime and allied militia positions in Dadikh in rural south-east Idlib (10.1). Days later, Fateh al-Mabin forces killed and injured several regime elements in a night raid on a military bulldozer along frontlines in south Syria (12.1). Later in the month Fateh al-Mabin launched a separate night-time operation behind regime lines in eastern Idlib, taking advantage of heavy fog and low visibility to transport it back to their positions.
- Opposition merger: Opposition factions Harakat Thae’roun (Revolutionaries Movement) and Al-Jabha a-Souriya l-Tahrir (Syrian Liberation Front) merged into a single faction called of Ha’yat Thae’roun l-Tahrir (Commission of Revolutionaries for Liberation) (23.1). The merger of the factions, both part of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), comes amid efforts to reduce infighting among the SNA.
- HTS arrests: Hardline coalition Ha’yat Tahrir a-Sham (HTS) arrested a number of foreign and non-Syrian Arab fighters belonging to the radical Hurras a-Din faction in Idlib city as well as villages along the Turkish-Syrian border in a series of raids.
- Escalation with SDF: Artillery shells launched believed to have been launched by SDF forces struck a crowded marketplace in al-Bab in the Afrin area of eastern Aleppo, killing eight and wounding at least 29 (2.2). The shelling followed earlier attacks by the Turkish military against SDF positions amid rising tensions along the frontlines. The SDF issued a statement denying involvement in the attack.
- Rocket strike: An SDF rocket killed three SNA fighters in a vehicle near Jarablus in eastern Aleppo province (3.2).
- ISIS leader killed: US-led coalition forces launched a major night-time raid in Idlib province that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi and more than a dozen others after the ISIS leader detonated a suicide belt to prevent his capture (3.2). Two helicopters descended on al-Qurayshi’s home in Atmeh near the Turkish-Syrian border and local reports indicate that clashes erupted between armed elements on the ground and US forces, with one US helicopter destroyed over the course of the two-hour-long operation.
- Deadly scene: The blast from al-Qurayshi’s suicide belt left 12 others dead—including six children and four women. Civil Defense members arrived at the scene after the fighting to remove bodies and ensure the area was safe for civilians to return. Members of the hardline Ha’yat Tahrir a-Sham (HTS) subsequently closed down the surrounding area, barring individuals from entering and exiting.
- Devastating winter storm: Harsh winter conditions struck several IDP camps along the Syrian-Turkish border in north-west Syria, with heavy snowfall and strong winds destroying at least 362 tents in the Azaz and Afrin areas of Aleppo province. Pictures emerged on social media of two young children who froze to death in Idlib and southern Aleppo, underscoring the humanitarian catastrophe for the displaced.
- Coronavirus: The coronavirus pandemic continues in north-west Syria, with 93,073 total cases as of late January (30.1). While these numbers are low and typically only a handful of new cases are recorded daily, poor access to testing facilities, a dearth of protective measures against the spread of the virus and poor healthcare infrastructure continues to make the spread of covid a serious concern.