Hostilities broke out again between Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) in late September, with long-running tensions and conflict between the two sides showing few signs of abating in the near future. The latest dispute centred on the highly strategic al-Hamran crossing on the easternmost reaches of the SNA’s territory in northeastern Aleppo: a vital conduit for oil coming from Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) areas into the opposition-held north-west. On 25th September, following a years-old dispute between Ahrar al-Sham (Eastern Section) and its former allies in the SNA, the Ahrar al-Sham group’s leadership defected to join HTS. The SNA quickly moved to regain control over the crossing, prompting clashes with HTS. Ultimately, HTS failed to hold most of the territory that it entered during the course of recent hostilities. As with past HTS-SNA clashes, Turkey succeeded in brokering a ceasefire; however, subsequent violence remains highly likely.
Military Situation in North-West Syria
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In late September, Ahrar al-Sham’s Eastern Section, responsible for guarding the strategic al-Hamran crossing, defected from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) and joined Ahrar al-Sham proper (affiliated with HTS since 2017). This breakaway group had withdrawn to north-east Aleppo and joined the SNA’s Jabhat al-Shamiya after 2017, when HTS seized control of the Bab al-Hawa crossing and stood against Ahrar al-Sham. However, since then, Ahrar al-Sham’s Eastern Section had moved away from the SNA, becoming a key (albeit not quite official) ally for HTS in the region. The defection was therefore the last straw for the SNA.
After heavy clashes broke out between HTS and the SNA’s 2nd Legion, several hundred HTS fighters managed to clandestinely reach north-eastern Aleppo—in some cases, with the help of groups within the SNA. Both sides sustained casualties: for example, an unknown drone targeted a group of HTS fighters in north-east Aleppo province, killing two fighters and wounding eight others. As HTS advanced on several positions, the group killed seven SNA fighters and injured 20 others.
Almost all advances made by HTS and affiliated forces were reversed in the clashes that followed—excluding one military point that constitutes the garrison base at the al-Hamran crossing. Similarly, SNA groups regained control over all territory lost in Jarablus and fortified positions in areas near al-Bab. Turkey successfully brokered a ceasefire agreement on 1st October between HTS and the SNA that halted clashes. However, with tensions still high, a second bout of hostilities is expected to break out any time.
Radical & Opposition Activity
Fighters from the Fateh al-Mubin operations room continued front-line operations against regime forces and affiliated militias in several sites across the north-west. Artillery shelling in southern Idlib killed and wounded several regime and militia fighters.
Russian & Regime Activity
Regime forces and affiliated militias repeatedly targeted rural areas and villages in the southern Idlib countryside and western Hama countryside with artillery. As many as five civilians were injured in the eastern Idlib countryside following barrages of artillery strikes and rocket attacks by regime forces. Two civilians were also reported injured in southern Idlib after a regime artillery bombardment. Another two civilians were killed and two others were wounded (including a critically injured child) after regime forces targeted an IDP camp near eastern Idlib’s Sarmin. Ten civilians, including two children and a pregnant woman, were injured in regime missile strikes targeting western Idlib’s Jisr al-Shughour.
Russian warplanes meanwhile bombed civilian homes in northwestern Hama’s Sahel al-Ghab region, resulting in the destruction of housing but no reported casualties.
Turkey’s aerial campaign across north-west Syria continued into September. The SDF-affiliated Manbij Military Council announced in mid-September that a Turkish drone strike killed three female fighters from the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) on a road south of Manbij. Four regime troops were injured in a Turkish aerial strike in northern Aleppo.
The SDF also bombarded the Barshaya camp in the eastern Aleppo countryside on 7th September, killing a man and wounding a child. The group then conducted a similar bombing targeting a village in rural Manbij the same day, killing one person and wounding five others.
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