HTS Consolidates Its Grip Over Turkey Border Crossing
Al-Qaida-linked militants strengthened their grip over segments of Syria’s northwestern Idlib province after a rival rebel group pulled out from a key border crossing with Turkey on Sunday, Reuters reported.
The withdrawal of Ahrar al-Sham fighters from the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey was stipulated under terms of a cease-fire deal reached on Friday following three days of heavy fighting in which the hard-line militant group faced Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by al-Qaida’s former Syria affiliate.
Ahrar al-Sham moved a large convoy of weapons, tanks and hundreds of fighters to its strongholds in southern Idlib province and in the neighboring province of Hama Sunday, after HTS militants surrounded its forces near the Syria-Turkey border crossing and after they were ousted from the province’s main villages and towns.
The pullout of Ahrar from the border crossing of Bab al-Hawa, which it had controlled for over three years and which was a major source of revenue, is a blow for the group. The presence of HTS in the area is also likely to be a cause of concern for Turkey, which had backed Ahrar al-Sham’s control of the crossing.
Eastern Ghouta Cease-Fire Collapses After 24 Hours
A cease-fire agreement between the Syrian government and opposition groups in the eastern suburbs of Damascus collapsed Sunday, following a string of government air raids on the area, Al Jazeera reported.
The Syrian government declared a cessation of hostilities in the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital on Saturday and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that a relative calm had prevailed over the area in the hours after the cease-fire took effect, according to Al Jazeera.
However, the Syrian government targeted the rebel-held towns of Douma and Ain Terma on Sunday with at least six airstrikes.
The two towns have been the target of a fierce government campaign since last month. The offensive on Eastern Ghouta is part of President Bashar Assad’s plans to expand control over rebel-held areas around his seat of power.
According to Reuters, there was no immediate comment from the government or army on the collapse of the cease-fire agreement, but Al Jazeera said that the Syrian military had accused Jaish al-Islam, a hard-line militant group, of being the first to breach the deal.
Syrian Army Advances in Raqqa
The Syrian army and allied militias have advanced against the so-called Islamic State in Raqqa’s southeastern countryside over the weekend, Reuters reported Sunday, citing a war monitor.
The government advanced toward the provincial border between Deir Ezzor and Raqqa late on Saturday, capturing an oil field in the Sabkha area as part of the push.
Recent gains put pro-government forces roughly 11 miles (18km) away from territory controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters spearheading the campaign against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Raqqa, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The advance also brings the Syrian government closer to the ISIS stronghold of Deir Ezzor.
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