Extremist groups have fought on two separate fronts in the north of Syria launching attacks against Russian-backed Syrian forces, as Turkey negotiates with international parties, including Russia and the United States, to launch a battle against the Kurds in eastern Euphrates.
Militant groups broke the truce in the north in the past two days, with heavy machine guns targeting government forces' vehicles on the Harisheh axis in the southern countryside of Aleppo, while destroying a tank at al-Sharia airport in the Sahl al-Ghab western region of Hama, with an anti-tank missile.
These infractions come in conjunction with hardliner organisations affiliated to the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) previously Al-Qaeda in Syria, strengthening their military build-up in the Kabana axis in the region to the east of Latakia, adjacent to the area around Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib.
Opposition sources in the north said Turkish intelligence had told moderate factions to observe the truce, but at the same time ordered extremist factions to move on frontlines with government and Russian-backed forces. The source, who asked to remain anonymous in view of the ultra-sensitive situation in the north, said that "intelligence alone can provoke violence and can quell it. No one can act without its command, otherwise it would cease to receive support and funding, and it would be uncovered, allowing other factions to attack it.” The source said the movements of recent extremist factions "are being carried out in line with Turkish political or field calculations."
These moves now coincide with the military operation Turkey is threatening to launch in eastern Euphrates, an operation which has not received the full consent of Russia. Turkey is negotiating with Russia and the US to implement the zone, but the negotiations have yet to receive international approval. Turkey is pressuring the Russian side on the ground in Idlib as well as in the southwestern Aleppo region by demanding that these organisations initiate the confrontation.
The attack in Aleppo was the first since Russia announced a unilateral ceasefire on August 30th. The Operating Command includes the radical Horras al-Din, Ansar al-Tawhid, and Ansar al-Islam organisations, which all reject the political process and the subsequent agreements. The southern fronts of Aleppo, and the northern and western suburbs have witnessed sporadic clashes. The heaviest clashes took place in the Al-Zahraa and Jamiyat Al-Rashideen areas, while the militias bombarded Al-Mallah, Mansoura and Al-Rashideen with artillery and heavy machine guns.
Meanwhile, Russia is preventing Turkish troops from breaking the truce in Tel Rifaat in the Kurdish-controlled northern region of Aleppo. The Syrian daily Al-Watan quoted local sources in the city of Tal Rifaat north of Aleppo as saying that Russian forces had conducted several patrols in the last two days. These occurred in the area connecting the town with Shirawa in the north, passing through Deir Jamal, down to Kashtara which has a Russian observation post.
The sources said the aim of intensifying patrols was to "stabilise the truce in Tal Rifaat and its northern area following the Turkish army's artillery's bombardment last month against the city as well as the towns separating it from the areas under the control of the Turkish army and its militias in the northern region around Aleppo."
Turkey's recruitment of extremist groups and their mobilisation in international political moves have become apparent to many Syrians. The militant factions "cannot disengage from Turkey, as they realise that this would be the end for them. If this happened, it would expose what they really are to the international community. That is without mentioning Russia which is using them as a pretext to keep battles going in Idlib,” said an opposition leader in Idlib, Mohammed al-Shami.
On the other hand, al-Shami said that Turkey "usually uses militant factions for two purposes. The first is linked to international operations, sometimes asking them to calm down or withdraw and sometimes to expand or attack. The second is for domestic operations, especially when objections are raised against the practices of these factions in the wider social environment.” Then Turkey tries to contain "the climate of rage by pushing extremists into battle fields against the Syrian army in a bid to improve its image and provide a pretext for its survival."
There are two current developments in Syria, apart from Turkey's efforts to carry out a military operation in eastern Euphrates. The first has been increasing resentment against extremist organisations. It seems that soon there will be demands to disband them and exile them to remote areas in the mountains in the eastern region around Latakia.
The second is that demonstrations broke out a month ago in Saraqeb, one of the largest cities controlled by HTS (formerly Nusra, which now includes other extremist factions) against HTS. Demonstrators demanded the dismantling of the Salvation Government (NSG) and HTS. The demonstrations also denounced the HTS's stance against the return of the Free Army's moderate factions to fight the regime, the high cost of living and taxation on farmers and civilians.
While the extremist organisations are stepping up activities in the area beyond the control of Damascus in the Idlib and Aleppo regions, they are simultaneously mobilising military efforts in Kabana in the eastern Latakia region in conjunction with bombings by the Syrian army. These targeted the Kabana axis and the areas surrounding the northern Latakia region, among others. In the Jisr al-Shughour area, western Idlib, the town of Kafranbel was also shelled.
"The Syrian army targeted the military vehicles of Al-Nasra Front, the Islamic Turkistan Party and crowds of terrorists in Kabbani and its suburbs, northeast of Latakia, as well as in the vicinity of the towns of Ghassaniya, Zainia, Janodia and Bexria near Jisr al-Shughour in western Idlibregion,” state media reported.