Syria: updates on events from around the country (Apr 20 – Apr 28)

Dimashq: Fighters from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and local National Defense Forces (NDF) destroyed rebel tunnels and arms caches as they gained more ground in the vicinity of the Damascene suburb of Qaboun on the 20th and 21st. The fighting continued on the 22nd and 23rd as more tunnels were destroyed and opposition positions were forced to retreat, yielding ground to the SAA. Rebel infighting also broke out on the 27th, as Faylaq ar-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam forces in the East Ghouta area clashed with one another and inflicted casualties. Heavy airstrikes and shelling continued as the SAA took advantage of this chaos and advanced south of Hawsh Nasri, as well as gained more ground in the urban area of Qaboun.

An SAA T-72 tank, armored up to protect against rockets, advances in urban Qaboun, April 27th.

Homs: SAA and Islamic State (IS) fighters continued to clash around Tadmur, as IS launched attacks on the 22nd and 23rd against checkpoints east of Tadmur, killing and capturing SAA regulars there. Nearly forty SAA soldiers were killed in the vicinity of the grain silos and the eastern checkpoints throughout the week, as ferocious IS ambushes and hit-and-run attacks took a significant toll. To the north of the city, however, government forces saw greater successes as they reentered and captured nearly all of al-Sha’er Gas Field. IS forces fell back in the face of overwhelming firepower, and at least three tanks were knocked out by Russian Air Force (RuAF) helicopters as the SAA advanced into the Abyad mountain range and captured several high points on the 26th and 27th.

Hama: Following their securing of the towns of Souran and Ma’ardes the previous week, the SAA advanced into and captured the entirety of the town of Tayybat al-Imam on the 20th. The town had previously been held by Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) since their last major offensive in northern Hama in the autumn of 2016. A counterattack was made against the town spearheaded by Ahrar al-Sham, but after several hours of battle opposition fighters were forced to retreat, failing to recapture the lost territory. The 21st saw limited action as the government secured their gains, although an attack was made on the southern front of the town of Halfaya that ultimately failed. On the 22nd, government soldiers advanced on the village of Buwayda, to the north of Souran, and controlled parts of it by nightfall as opposition soldiers found themselves under heavy airstrikes. As the 23rd dawned, a major attack on Halfaya began from multiple directions, with opposition fighters finding themselves pressured on three fronts and hit by heavy bombardment. Under such pressure, a retreat was ordered, and government troops entered Halfaya that afternoon and secured the entire town by evening. The village of Zilaqiat followed shortly afterwards, coming under control of SAA troops by nightfall.

On the 24th, counterattacks against Zilaqiat and Buwaydah came, but only the former succeeded. Buwaydah was recaptured on the 25th by HTS fighters, but SAA Tiger Forces soldiers advanced and captured the village of Masasnah south of it, and repelled several counterattacks in the following days. Government forces were unable to retake Buwaydah after its loss, but were able to advance in Zilaqiat and seize the outskirts of the village after heavy fighting on the 27th. Shelling and skirmishes continued into the 28th as both sides jockeyed for control of the farmlands south of al-Lataminah.

NDF fighters pose victoriously after driving HTS out of Halfaya, April 22nd.

Ar-Raqqa: On the 21st, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters seized the crucial road junction at al-Hazimah, roughly 20 km north of Raqqa city, cutting off IS fighters in the pocket of Abu Hassan and isolating several smaller farming hamlets north of the Hazimah town. Fighting continued until the 23rd, when the last shreds of resistance within the pocket were crushed and security operations began to clear mines and explosives from the area.

To the south, fighting for Tabqah town continued to be ferocious as SDF fighters attempted to advance on multiple fronts. Territory within the Ayd as-Saghir neighborhood was captured on the 22nd, and on the 23rd pushed past Yusuf al-Azma street into the neighborhood of al-Majadma, despite fierce resistance by IS fighters who attempted another breakout from the siege that night. The attempt failed with severe casualties among IS ranks. The operation stalled out on the 25th as Turkish military forces began their vigorous airstrike campaign to the north, but resumed on the 27th as SDF fighters continued to gain ground within the city, and pushed into the Nehba and Zahra districts on the 28th, capturing the latter fully and securing large city blocks of the former.

The vigorous clashes on the southern front in Tabqah resulted in thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) crossing dangerous terrain to the safety of SDF and YPG lines, where they were redirected to temporary camps. The increased flow of refugees put a strain on resources in the area, as local governance organizations and military commanders alike struggled to care for civilians coming into their territory. The beginning of a new Turkish military operations on the border compounded these issues, as Turkish artillery and aircraft began to strike YPG positions within Syria, causing casualties among both military and civilian personnel.

Deir-ez-Zor: On the night of the 20th, IS inghimasiyeen attempted to infiltrate and overtake SAA positions on Jabal Harabesh, overlooking the crucial city cemetery that has been the nexus for fighting in recent weeks. Government soldiers were able to repel the attacks and regain territory by the next morning. A sandstorm developed on the 22nd, however, and weather issues completely grounded Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) aircraft by the 23rd, providing IS with a window to attack the already beleaguered government garrisons there. Fighting erupted, but no major gains were made, and by the 26th IS was losing territory in the cemetery as SAA operations resumed there.

IS media captures the onset of a major sandstorm in Deir-ez-Zor, April 24th.

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