Syria: updates on events from around the country (Jan 29 – Feb 5)

Homs: Clashes continued between members of the Islamic State (IS) organization and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) as the latter advanced to the south of the village of Sharifat and captured the desert crossroads at Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi on the 1st. Clashes continued throughout the rest of the week as the SAA, with continued air support by the allied Russian Air Force (RuAF), clashed with IS in the rural desert and attempted to advance on Hayyan Gas Plant, which had previously been sabotaged by IS after the second fall of Palmyra back in early January.

SAA and NDF fighters hold positions in battle against IS south of the village of Sharifat, February 3rd.

Daraa: Members of the Ahmad Abdo Martyrs Brigade clashed with IS elements northeast of the village of Kite in far east Daraa on the 2nd, with minor casualties recorded on both sides.

Farther west, in the Qalamoun barrens, members of Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid (an IS affiliated armed organization) clashed with both the SAA and local Islamist groups, as the IS affiliate attempted to expand its territory in the dry, rough terrain south of Damascus. Islamist groups and Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid fought on the 1st and 2nd, with at least forty-five slain in the fighting. Heavy skirmishes were also reported around al-Seen Airbase and Tall al-Darwish, northeast of Dumayr, after IS launched an offensive in the area. The militant group suffered heavy casualties and captured little ground in the attacks.

Dimashq: As nearly 2,000 militant fighters and their families were evacuated from the Wadi Barada pocket after its leadership negotiated a surrender with the government, engineering squads moved in to repair local roads and demine dangerous areas. No additional fighting was recorded in the river valley as all rebels put down their arms and departed the area peacefully.

SAA soldiers pose in front of the Wadi Barada Water Treatment Plant, recently recaptured by the government, February 1st.

Deir-ez-Zor: The SAA made advances in the al-Mayssalon industrial district in eastern Deir-ez-Zor, and recapture more ground in the vast cemeteries area, but failed to reconnect the two separate pockets, driven apart by an IS offensive in early January. IS Amaq videos revealed significant SAA casualties during battles near al-Banourama, and IS has continued to shell the Deir-ez-Zor Airbase, preventing resupply flights from landing at the airfield.

In the East Ghouta pocket, the SAA and Jaish al-Islam continued to clash on the front of Hawsh Nasri, with no gains made by the government as they attempted to break opposition lines in a bid to advance on the rebel stronghold of Douma.

Aleppo: In an attempt to approach and surround the IS-held city of al-Bab from the south, Turkish-aligned Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups captured the villages of al-Ghuz, Abu Zandin, and ash-Shurfah on the 1st, threatening both the 212 Avenue and M4 Highway leading into al-Bab. The village of Shawamiyah, east of the M4 Highway, fell on the 3rd, putting the highway and its environs under the control of Ahrar al-Sham. The TFSA also attempted to attack and seize the town of Bza’ah northeast of al-Bab on the 4th, and held it for some time before constant attacks and shelling by IS forced them to retreat and regroup.

The SAA advanced as well, first capturing Rasm Sirhan on the 1st, then seizing the farmland around Aran on the 4th and capturing the town itself that night as IS retreated under heavy fire. The SAA and TFSA are competing with one another in a bid to seize al-Bab, and the two factions have previously made threatening overtures to one another with promises to engage the other in combat should they meet on the frontlines. However, no fighting between the two organizations has been registered as of right now.

An SAA T-72 tank takes a direct hit from an IS ATGM on the outskirts of Aran, February 3rd.

Ar-Raqqa: The beginning of the month was marked by a large transfer of heavy weaponry and an assortment of vehicles from the Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with nearly 200 light vehicles registered as being provided to the SDF as they prepared for the third phase of their “Euphrates Wrath” operation against IS in ar-Raqqa province.

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