Newly deployed Syrian Army troops begin heavy bombardment of Idlib front-lines

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By News Desk -2020-07-26

The Tiger Forces moving through the eastern countryside of the Aleppo Governorate during their offensive against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh).

BEIRUT, LEBANON (12:40 P.M.) – The newly deployed 25th Special Mission Forces Division of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) have already begun their heavy bombardment of the southern Idlib front-lines.

According to reports from nearby Hama, the 25th Division unleashed a flurry of artillery and missiles strikes on the jihadist defenses in a number of areas along the Jabal Al-Zawiya front-lines, including the villages of Al-Bara’a, Al-Fatirah.

The 25th Division, alongside the National Defense Forces (NDF) and other units of the Syrian Army, heavily targeted the jihadist fortifications and posts that were constructed along these front-line villages in southern Idlib.

At the same time, Russian and Syrian military reconnaissance planes were also seen over the jihadist positions in the Jabal Al-Zawiya, which likely provided intel to the troops on the ground.

Over the weekend, the 25th Division moved to the southern Idlib front-lines, following orders to mass deploy to the Jabal Al-Zawiya region.

It is still not clear what the plan of action is for the 25th Division, as some have claimed their deployment has to do with an upcoming offensive in southern Idlib, while others have alleged they are planning to push up the Al-Ghaab Plain towards Jisr Al-Shughour.

INFIGHTING AMONG IDLIB RADICALS RESUMES WITH RENEWED ENERGY

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Late on June 23, the Israeli Air Force conducted airstrikes on alleged Iranian-linked targets near al-Sukhna and Kabajab in central Syria and near Tel Al-Sahn in the countryside of as-Suwayda in southern Syria. A second wave of Israeli strikes early on June 24 targeted Salamyieh and al-Sabboura in the province of Hama. Syrian state media denied that the strikes hit Iranian targets saying that 2 soldiers were killed, 4 others injured and some material damage was caused by the attack. As was expected the airstrikes took place just a few days after Hezbollah-affiliated media had released a video with threats to strike targets inside Israel in the event of an escalation.

Since June 23 intense fighting has been ongoing in the countryside of Idlib and the southern part of the province between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) and the recently formed coalition of al-Qaeda-linked groups, Fa Ithbatu.

The Idlib central prison area, the village of Arab Said, and the towns of Barisha, Sarmada and Ariha were the main focal points of the confrontation. According to pro-militant sources, the fighting broke out as a result of recent tensions caused by the arrests of some members of Fa Ithbatu by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham security forces. From demands to release its members, Fa Ithbatu forces moved to a direct confrontation with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. However, as of the morning of June 24th, they had not yet achieved any major successes in these efforts.

Simultaneously, tensions grew between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and another al-Qaeda-linked group, the Turkistan Islamic Party, in the town of Jisr al-Shughur. Turkistan Islamic Party members reportedly surrounded a local HQ of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Fa Ithbatu and the Turkistan Islamic Party are apparently very unhappy with the recent actions of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which had indirectly supported the implementation of the Turkish-Russian de-escalation agreement on southern Idlib and pressured other al-Qaeda-linked groups in the area to gain more support from Turkey.

While the close cooperation with Turkey allows Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to increase its military and financial capabilities, the implementation of the de-escalation deal poses a direct threat to interests of smaller radical groups such the ones from Fa Ithbatu. Thus, there is a clear conflict of interest that may yet turn into a full-scale military confrontation.

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ISRAEL STRIKES SENSITIVE TARGETS IN SYRIA. IEDS EXPLODE NEAR TURKISH-RUSSIAN PATROL

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Early on June 5, the Israeli Air Force conducted strikes on a Syrian military facility near Masyaf. The strikes were conducted from Lebanese airspace. The Syrian Air Defense Forces intercepted several missiles, however the rest hit their targets. The bombed facility, which is run by the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, is reportedly involved in the development and manufacturing of missiles.

Two improvised explosive devices exploded near a joint Russian-Turkish patrol moving along the M4 highway in southern Idlib on June 4. The explosions happened when the patrol was passing the militant-held town of Arihah. However, they caused no damage to military vehicles or casualties among Turkish or Russian personnel. Despite the incident, the 15th joint patrol became even longer than all the previous ones. It started in the government-held town of Tronba bypassed Arihah and reached the village of Kafer Shalaya.

The slowly but steadily expanding length of Russian-Turkish patrols is a visual confirmation of the implementation of the de-escalation deal reached by Moscow and Ankara. At the same time, the full implementation of the deal still faces serious difficulties due to the presence of terrorist groups in the area. For example, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants are still in control of Arihah and recent developments show that they are not planning to sit there idly.

Ankara understands this and its forces continue expanding a network of observation posts along the M4 highway to secure the patrols. Recently, the Turkish Army set up positions near Bsanqul, Kafer Shalaya, Urum al-Jawz and Mareian. Nonetheless, without proactive measures to put an end to the terrorist threat, the situation cannot be changed strategically.

Just recently, a new wave of violence rolled across the militant-held part of Greater Idlib after Hayat Tahrir al-Sham detained a member of another radical militant group – Houras al-Din. The militant was detained when he was collecting taxes from locals for military purposes and kept in a Hayat Tahrir al-Sham-run prison in Jisr al-Shughur. Later, Houras al-Din fighters stormed the prison and freed their counterpart.

Earlier, Houras al-Din and the Turkistan Islamic Party criticized Hayat Tahrir al-Sham for having too soft a stance towards the Russian-Turkish de-escalation agreement in southern Idlib. Tensions, caused by the internal struggle for influence and resources, often grow among Idlib militant groups during the ceasefire phases of the conflict. Therefore, if some power wants to unite them and use them as at least a relatively homogenous force, a new escalation would be very useful.

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INFIGHTING AMONG TURKISH PROXIES ERUPTS IN SYRIA. ROCKET STRIKE HITS US-OPERATED OIL FACILITY IN IRAQ

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Infighting among Turkish-backed groups has erupted near the town of Ras al-Ayn. According to local sources, conflicts over the captured houses and looted properties became the main reason of the conflict between members of the Sultan Murad armed group which attacked other Turkish-backed rebels. The situation rapidly escalated to the extent when the Turkish Army had to deploy additional troops and equipment in the area in order to put an end to the infighting. At the same time, the Turkish Army continued deploying additional troops and military equipment in the province of Idlib.

Last night, nearly 30 trucks and military vehicles entered Syria and reached the countryside of the town of Jisr al-Shughur, controlled by al-Qaeda-linked militants. Two days ago, the Turkish Army established 3 new observation points there.

A US military convoy consisting of 35 trucks laden with military and logistic supplies entered Syria from northern Iraq. The convoy entered the country via the al-Walid border crossing controlled by the US military and US-backed Kurdish armed groups and moved supplies to US military facilities in the countryside of al-Hasakah. According to Syrian sources, the US military is now working to reinforce its positions near the Khrab al-Jeer military airport.

Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV claimed that a US soldier and several members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces had been killed in an attack by radical militants on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, in the province of Deir Ezzor. Earlier, similar claims were made by several pro-Kurdish and pro-opposition sources. The situation remains unclear. However, over the past 2 months ISIS cells have ramped up their operations in the provinces of Homs and Deir Ezzor.

On April 6, a barrage of rockets struck near the oil-rich area near Iraq’s southern city of Basra. The strike hit the Zubeir oil field operated by the US company Halliburton in the Burjesia area. According to state-run Basra Oil Co., which oversees oil operation in the south, the attack had not affected production and export operations.

The April 6 strike became the first such attack since June 2019 and came only 2 days after Iraqi resistance groups released a joint statement calling US forces in Iraq occupants and in fact threatening them with a military action.

Since January 2020, there has been an increase in rocket attacks on US forces and facilities in Iraq. However, until now, all attacks were aimed against the sites affiliated with the US military and intelligence. The April 6 attack indicates that US energy giants that operate in Iraq are also in danger.

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U.S. Confirms Deployment Of Patriot Missiles In Iraq. Iran Prepares For Conflict In Straight Of Hormuz

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On April 5, a series of large explosions rocked the village of al-Kastan in southwestern Idlib injuring 8 people, including 3 members of the so-called White Helmets. According to local sources, an ammunition depot located in the civilian area inside the city became the source of the explosion.

Al-Kastan is located near the town of Jisr al-Shughur, controlled by the Al-Qaeda-linked Turkistan Islamic Party. The exploded weapon depot likely belonged to the terrorist group or persons affiliated with it.

On the same day, the Turkish military established three new ‘observation posts’ around Jisr al-Shughur. They are located at the villages of Baksariya, al-Z’ainiyah and Furaykah. Idlib militants see Turkish positions as an important defense line that would allow containing possible Russia- and Iran-backed anti-terrorist operations in the area.

The 46th Regiment Base of the Syrian Army in western Aleppo came under Turkish artillery shelling. In response, Syrian forces struck position of Turkish-backed militants near Kafr Amma. The attack on the 46th Regiment Base became a third incident between the Turkish military and Syrian troops in less than a week. On April 3, two Syrian soldiers were killed in a Turkish artillery strike on their positions near Tell Abyad.

On April 4, Iraq’s largest resistance groups released a joint statement calling the US military “occupation forces” that “respect the language of force only”. In the statement, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, Kata’ib al-Imam Ali, Harakat al-Awfiy’a, Saraya Ashura, Harakat Jund al-Imam and Saraya al-Khurasani added that recent attacks on US forces and facilities in Iraq were only a “minor response” to the US aggression and the decision to carry out full-scale attacks was not taken then.

Two days earlier, on April 2, Usbat al-Tha’ireen, the armed group that claimed responsibility for rocket strikes on Camp Taji and other US positions, released a 3-minute long drone footage of the US embassy in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone. This is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world, and is nearly as large as Vatican City.

The US Central Command officially confirmed deployment of Patriot air defense systems in Iraq. However, the US military announced that it will not provide “providing status updates as those systems come online” for security reasons. At least two Patriot batteries are now located in at the US military bases of Ayn al-Assad and Erbil. Two more Patriot batteries will reportedly be deployed soon.

As part of its plan to redeploy forces to larger, more fortified bases, the US evacuated its troops from the al-Taqaddum Air Base in the province of al-Anbar. It became the fourth US military facility abandoned in Iraq within the last few weeks. The previous ones were located in al-Qaim, Kirkuk and al-Qayyarah.

Iraqi sources say that the US actions demonstrate that Washington is preparing for a new round of military confrontation with Iran and its allies in the region. Recently, President Donald Trump stated that the US was expecting attacks by Iranian-led forces on US troops and facilities, claiming that Iran will ‘pay price’ for this. Following the statement, Iran deployed additional anti-ship missiles and multiple rocket launchers on the Qeshm Island in the Strait of Horumz.

ISIS Threat Revives In Eastern Syria. Idlib Militants Kill Each Other Over Security Zone Deal Contradictions

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ISIS cells are once again active in eastern Syria. Late on March 17, the Syrian Army and the National Defense Forces epelled an ISIS attack in the area between the town of al-Sukhna and the T3 station. The attack involved over two dozen ISIS members supported by at least 6 vehicles equipped with heavy weapons. Pro-opposition sources claim that at least 20 Syrian soldiers were killed in the clashes. Pro-government sources deny casualties and say that terrorists were forced to retreat after they had been targeted by artillery and mortar fire.

The ISIS presence in the desert area of eastern Syria had been slowly decreasing over the past year. Additionally, government forces carried out several security operations cracking down on the remaining ISIS cells in southeastern Deir Ezzor and eastern Homs. However, the terrorist threat was not removed. Syria and Russia say that ISIS members use the US-controlled zone of al-Tanf as a safe haven to hide from Syrian Army operations.

Five civilians were reportedly killed and 15 others injured in a rocket strike on the city of Afrin on March 18. Pro-Turkish sources say that the rockets were launched by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) or affiliated rebels. The YPG created the brand of the Afrin Liberation Forces in December 2018 in order to distance themselves from regular attacks on the Turkish-controlled part of northwestern Syria. In this way, the YPG, which is the core of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, was seeking to distance itself from operations against Turkish forces. The goal was to continue receiving military and financial support from the United States, while simultaneously using the same resources to carry out attacks on the formal ally of the US under another brandname.

Alaa al-Omar, a commander of one of the largest units in the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham Movement, was assassinated near Jisr al-Shughur in the southwestern part of Greater Idlib. Al-Omar was among commanders of Turkish proxy groups involved in sabotaging joint Russian-Turkish patrols along the M4 highway. Pro-government sources claim that his assassination is a result of the contradiction between al-Omar’s unit and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Turkistan Islamic Party, which controls Jisr al-Shughur. According to this theory, al-Omar was not active enough in organizing protests against the safe zone deal.

Regardless of the contradictions among the Idlib armed groups, the M4 highway remains closed and the Turkish-Russian agreement on the safe zone in the area is not being implemented.

IRANIAN-BACKED FORCES RAISE STAKES. ROCKET ATTACK KILLS SEVERAL U.S. COALITION TROOPS IN IRAQ

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A volley of rockets struck the Camp Taji military base in Iraq on the evening of March 11, killing three US-led coalition service members, two of them Americans and one British, and injuring 12 others. The targeted military base is a large facility located in a rural region approximately 27km north of Baghdad.

After the shelling, Iraqi security forces found the improvised rocket launcher used in the attack in the nearby area of Rashidiya. It was forty 107mm barrels installed on the back of a Kia Bongo truck. Three rockets were still remaining inside the barrel.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack. However, over the past months US-linked targets have witnessed a number of similar rocket attacks. Most of them led to no casualties. In general, US sources blame Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-linked groups for these incidents.

The situation became especially tense after the US strike on a convoy of Iraqi and Iranian officers moving near Baghdad International Airport on January 3. The prominent Iranian general, commander of the Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, was assassinated in this strike. The attack caused a large-scale crisis in the region, and prompted an Iranian retaliatiory missile strike on US military bases in Iraq. Washington swallowed a public attack on its forces by a state claiming that there were no casualties. In the following weeks, these ‘no casualties’ steadily turned into at least 110. All of them, according to the official version, received traumatic brain injury.

Additionally, the Iraqi Parliament accepted a bill demanding US troop withdrawal from the country, which Washington ignored, even threatening Baghdad with devastating sanctions, should Iraq continue to act like it is a sovereign, rather than occupied, country.

Following the attack on Camp Taji, ‘unknown aircraft’, most likely belonging to the US-led coalition, struck positions belonging to Iranian-backed groups near the Syrian-Iraqi border. The surroundings of the Syrian town of al-Bukamal, located on the highway linking Deir Ezzor and Baghdad, became the main target of the attack. Pro-Iranian sources claimed that the strikes caused material damage only.

Meanwhile, US forces in northeastern Syria strengthened their military positions by deploying additional howitzers. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces declared in an official statement that the military buildup was needed to provide US bases with additional protection. Another troop withdrawal announced by the administration of President Donald Trump is apparently successfully ongoing.

Syria’s northwest is also a source of tensions. On March 11, intense fighting erupted among Turkish-backed armed groups in the town of Azaz. As always, the incident was caused by internal contradictions between Turkish proxies who are involved in a wide range of various criminal activities and regularly clash for spheres of influence.

In the region of Greater Idlib, Turkish-backed groups, including those linked with al-Qaeda, are preparing to sabotage another ceasefire deal. They reinforced their positions north of the M4 highway and east of Jisr al-Shughur and declared that they are not planning to withdraw from any areas south of the highway. These statements go contrary to Turkish claims that preparations for the creation of a security zone in the area and the start of joint Turkish-Russian patrols are successfully in progress. Despite these, Ankara continues blaming the Syrian government for supposed violations of the Moscow deal and threatening it with military action should the ceasefire be violated. It seems that Turkey once again seeks to sweep agreements regarding the withdrawal and neutralization of radicals under the carpet, thus pushing the region into a new round of military escalation.

Russian Air Force launches wide-scale attack across Idlib to stop militant advance

By News Desk -2020-03-01

BEIRUT, LEBANON (9:30 A.M.) – The Russian Air Force is back to launching heavy strikes over the Idlib Governorate, as their warplanes were reported to have carried out several attacks against the Turkish-backed militants and jihadists in the Jabal Al-Zawiya and Jisr Al-Shughour areas.

According to a military source in northwestern Syria, the Russian Air Force has stepped up their strikes over the Idlib Governorate these past 12 hours, hitting several sites belonging to the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) and their jihadist allies.

These strikes by the Russian Air Force came in response to several attacks launched by the Turkish military on the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) positions in the Jabal Al-Zawiya region and Saraqib area.

The Turkish military’s attacks have paved the way for their allied militants and jihadists to advance in Jabal Al-Zawiya, resulting in the capture of some towns, including Kafr ‘Awaid near the Shashabo Mountain.

The Russian Air Force will likely intensify their strikes over northwestern Syria for the next few days, as they await the arrival of more military equipment via their navy.

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