Syria: updates on events from around the country (Jan 23 – Jan 29)

Idlib: Beginning on January 24th, the tensions between various rebel groups in Idlib escalated further, after Jabhet Fatah al-Shaam (JFS) seized the headquarters of ex-allied Free Syrian Army (FSA) group Jaish al-Mujahideen, and seized several other bases in Ma’arat al-Numa’an and Ma’ar Shourin. Although little actual fighting occurred outside of skirmishes in the village of Dana, several rebel groups mobilized, and many called for a ceasefire between the factions. A compromise was reached on the 26th that merged several smaller factions with Ahrar al-Sham, bringing an end to the hostilities and uniting most of the disparate rebel factions under the umbrella of the two largest groups.

Rebel media groups revealed on the 28th that a new joint rebel faction, “Tahrir al-Sham” (lit. “Liberation of the Levant”) would be formed, consisting of several previously FSA-aligned factions that had come into conflict with JFS. The new group was accepted with open arms by the JFS-led military administration in Idlib, but there were some dissidents; of these dissidents, a good number defected into SDF-held Afrin Canton north of the Idlib countryside, with the intention of joining the ranks of the SDF.

Faylaq al-Sham demands a ceasefire and negotiations between fighting rebel factions, January 25th.

Homs: Small-scale skirmishes between the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the Islamic State (IS) continued in the rural desert area of Homs, as the former attempted to advance south of the village of Sharifat and the latter attempted to put pressure on the government-held Tiyas Airbase east of the city of Homs.

Dimashq: After SAA forces retreated from central Ain al-Fijieh, fighting continued with most days marked by heavy shelling of rebel-held territory within Wadi Barada. The 26th saw some heavy skirmishes but no ground gained. On the 27th, the SAA re-entered Ain al-Fijieh, prompting heavy fighting as rebel groups attempted to defend their ground. However, ferocious shelling and aerial attacks by government forces forced them to retreat, and a domino collapse began as rebel forces either surrendered or melted into the countryside of the river valley. The next day, the SAA flag rose over Ain al-Fijieh and parts of eastern Souq Barada, and the last bastions of resistance asked for terms. On the 29th, government forces declared the entire valley restored to their control, although demining operations would continue for some time.

Evacuation buses arrive in the captured town of Souq Wadi Barada to evacuate surrendered rebel fighters and their families, January 29th.

Aleppo: The SAA continued to gain territory from IS as they advanced steadily towards the IS-occupied city of al-Bab. On the 24th and the 25th, fighting and airstrikes resulted in the SAA gaining Jabal Rahhal, Sirbus, Dayr Hanta, and Kharbasheh, with casualties reported among IS ranks. Sulyamah and al-Madunyah fell on the 26th, and Musharifah and Sheikh Dayn were taken on the 28th. The advances have been slow but steady, and IS has been losing ground and fighters thanks to constant SAA bombardment and flanking attacks on the rural villages dotting the eastern countryside.

North of al-Bab, the Turkish-backed FSA finally captured and secured the village of Suflaniyah on the 24th after several failed attempts, cutting off the town of Qabasin in the process. Although they managed to hold the town against two separate attacks on the 27th and 28th, all attempts at infiltrating or putting pressure on Qabasin failed, and the northern town remains in IS hands.

Ar-Raqqa: Skirmishes and clashes rose and fell all over the Raqqa frontline as IS fighters put up a stiff defense against intruding SDF and YPG forces. Despite this resistance, the SDF was able to gain some ground in the rural north, and reached the vicinity of Tabqa town after fierce fighting on and around the massive Tabqa Dam, which bridges the Euphrates River.

Deir-ez-Zor: SAA forces continued to regain small stretches of ground against IS, retaking territory previously lost in the past month’s offensive. Although the two pockets remain separated and besieged by IS fighters, the SAA has retaken parts of the cemetery, the al-Banourama roundabout, and has advanced further towards al-Furat University after heavy fighting.

An SAA soldier fires on IS positions during clashes near al-Banourama roundabout, January 24th.

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