Syria: updates on events from around the country (Jan 17 – Jan 23)

Dimashq: The rural region of Wadi Barada continued to see skirmishes and intense shelling as Syrian Arab Army (SAA) forces secured their hold over Ain al-Fijieh and completely surrounded the wadi, which remained garrisoned by fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Shaam (JFS) despite calls for negotiations between the two sides.

Deir-ez-Zor: SAA and local tribal fighters in Deir-ez-Zor faced a massive offensive by thousands of Islamic State (IS) soldiers beginning January 14th, and growing in magnitude over the following days. The Deir-ez-Zor pocket, previously besieged for two and a half years by IS, was split into two halves when IS fighters captured the Assad Hospital, al-Furat University, and several residential neighborhoods on the 17th. Several other locations were lost and SAA soldiers steadily withdrew from the frontlines under intensive pressure.

Between the 19th and 22nd some positions (portions of city cemetery, al-Banourama) were recaptured by the SAA, but the two pockets remained separate from one another as IS consolidated their positions in al-Furat and surrounding areas. Government forces were only capable of minimal resupply and reinforcement, as IS artillery constantly fired on the airbase, necessitating airdrops.

An SAA T-62 tank fires on enemy positions west of the Banourama Miltary Base, January 22nd.

Idlib: Disagreements over the status of Jund al-Aqsa fighters previously absorbed into the ranks of JFS led to some significant infighting between battalions aligned with JFS and several other rebel groups (Ahrar al-Shaam, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Jaish al-Islam, Liwa Sultan Murad). The infighting, which began on the night of the 20th, led to some serious losses on both sides as fighting erupted around Nayrab and Jabal al-Zawiyah. Tensions in Idlib province have spiked recently after the collapse of Aleppo, as rebel groups have accused one another of failing to fight effectively.

Several major airstrikes have also rocked Idlib lately, with each day seeing heavy strikes. On the 19th, American aircraft struck a JFS training camp near Batbo, killing 100+ fighters, and the next day drone strikes near Sarmada were reported. A Russian Air Force (RuAF) sortie also hit an ammunition depot in Nayrab on the 22nd, killing 40 and causing a massive explosion.

Homs: Some small-scale fighting occurred in eastern Homs province, as government forces slowly regained ground against IS. The SAA advanced south of Sharifat and north of the T4 Airbase with support from the RuAF.

NDF fighters from Homs defend makeshift positions against an IS attack near Sharifat, January 22nd.

Aleppo: Beginning on the 18th, SAA Tiger Forces began a new offensive against IS positions in Eastern Aleppo, initiating combat north of Kuweires Air Base and capturing Barlahin and the small village of Ufrin. The following two days saw renewed SAA advances on the front at Shamir and Suran, and several towns – including Suran and Marran – were captured on the 21st and 22nd.

Farther north, Euphrates Shield forces have repeatedly failed to take and hold the village of Suflaniyah. Vanguard units have entered the town on two occasions, but were repelled by SVBIEDs both times and forced back into the countryside. Despite artillery support from the Turkish army, no new attempts have been made to attack Qabasin or al-Bab proper this week.

IS fighters examine an abandoned Turkish M60T Sabra main battle tank west of al-Bab, January 19th.

Ar-Raqqa: The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued to advance towards the IS capital of ar-Raqqa, taking numerous small rural villages and capturing the important town of Suwaydiyah al-Kabirah on the 21st. The capture put them within range of IS units near Tabqa Dam, and skirmishes north of the dam resulted. US air support has been consistent throughout the current stage of the Euphrates Wrath operation.

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