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Increase in Jihadist attacks in Syria as Turkey courts Assad

Syrian jihadi groups are increasing their attacks on Syrian army outposts, as tripartite meetings between Russia, Turkey and Syria hint at a potential rapprochement deal to end the decade-long war.
Fighters affiliated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham take part in a military excercise on attacking tactics with live ammunition, on the outskirts of Idlib, Syria, Nov. 8, 2022.

Jamaat al-Tawhid, an affiliate of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a designated terrorist group by the US and United Nations, confirmed to have raided several Syrian army posts on Wednesday.

The attacks were carried out in northwestern Syria, close to the border with Turkey.

According to Reuters, the group used heavy weapons that resulted in casualties. The Syrian army, in parallel, said that it repulsed the attacks, killing and injuring 12 attackers.

Ahrar al-Sham, another Jihadist group, has also been carrying out its own operations against the Syrian army, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

These hit-and-run battles have been localized and on the rise, with the Syrian army responding. According to media reports, several jihadis were killed, including a French militant during a fight in Jabal al-Zawiya. AFP reported that Abu Hamza is “suspected of funneling Francophone fighters to Syria. He is wanted on a French arrest warrant.”

Why it matters: Attacks have been intensifying against the Syrian army on all fronts in parallel with the ongoing rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus, brokered by Russia, which is stirring a lot of discontent on the ground.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been pushing for a Turkish-Russian reconciliation for years, and the endgame seems closer than ever, driven by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sense of opportunity as a result of Russia's war on Ukraine, the upcoming Turkish presidential elections and growing domestic discontent with his policies.

HTS vowed to continue the fight against the Syrian government as these tripartite meetings keep unfolding.

Protests have erupted across different Syrian cities in Aleppo and Idlib governorates — areas controlled by rebel factions backed by Ankara — against any reconciliation efforts with the Syrian government.    

Know more: The Syrian government and Russia have been mobilizing military forces and reinforcing their presence on the ground in Idlib and the Aleppo countryside as these sporadic attacks keep increasing.

“Military operations against the Syrian regime forces began to escalate following recent Turkish statements about the path of rapprochement and reconciliation between Ankara and Damascus,” a Syrian opposition leader told Asharq al-Awsat Arabic daily, on condition of anonymity.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking on Wednesday at a Moscow conference on the outcome of Russian diplomacy in 2022, called on the United States to lift sanctions on Syria. 

“The sanctions against Syria are unacceptable and must be lifted, and the West’s talk that they do not affect the Syrian people is a lie, as they are the cause of their suffering,” he said.  

He mentioned the ongoing rapprochement with Turkey and Russia's role. “Turkey has requested Russia’s help for rapprochement with Syria, and that preparations are underway for a meeting of the foreign ministers of Syria and Turkey in the future," as reported by the Syrian National News Agency.

Turkey and Syria have been engaged in a proxy war for over a decade following Ankara’s support of opposition groups.    

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