Syria's ever-shifting battle lines

According to military and field sources interviewed by As-Safir, an accurate assessment of the military situation in Syria at present is "nearly impossible" to attain.

al-monitor Rebel fighters stand on a tank overlooking the Ghab plain, in the Jabal al-Akrad area in Syria's northwestern Latakia province, April 29, 2015. The rebels are carrying out offensives against forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stationed in the Ghab plain in the Hama countryside.  Photo by REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi.

Topics covered

syrian army, syria, militants, jabhat al-nusra, islamic state, idlib, isis

Aug 9, 2015

Battles in the Hama countryside, adjacent to Idlib in the Ghab region, all the way to the west countryside of Idlib, are flaring up and branching out. Moreover, breakthroughs in terms of advancement of the Syrian army, on the one hand, and Jaish al-Fatah led by Jabhat al-Nusra, on the other, are becoming more frequent. Therefore, determining the features of the prevailing map has become an imprecise science, as control locations change on an hourly basis.

Jabhat al-Nusra brought reinforcements from Aleppo’s countryside, described by a field source as substantial, to use in these battles. Meanwhile, the Syrian army also recruited large reinforcements from Hama and its countryside. This means that the battles in these areas are ongoing, amid cases of displacement of the residents of the villages located on the confrontation line and in light of the large number of these residents who joined the ranks of the Syrian army and its supporting factions in defense of their villages.

A field source pointed out to As-Safir that an accurate assessment of the military situation and points of concentration is nearly impossible. The source said, “[Jabhat] al-Nusra opened new fronts on the edge of Jourin village, which includes a large military camp, in an attempt to foil the army advancement in other areas. A breakthrough occurred in Bahsa village, while Qalaa village witnessed a less intense breakthrough, but the Syrian army handled the situation, especially with the influx of hundreds of young people from nearby villages to join the ranks of combat troops.”

The source confirmed that the news published by some pro-opposition channels falls within the scope of propaganda and exaggeration of unsubstantial and likely breakthroughs, especially with the influx of reinforcements for Jabhat al-Nusra. It also stressed to As-Safir, “The Syrian army maintains its positions, in most of the areas, with the exception of Tal Hamki and Zeyzoun power station destroyed by [Jabhat] al-Nusra earlier.” The source explained, “The Syrian army is operating in these areas according to tactics similar to those of militant factions, where it divided the soldiers into groups moving in unpredictable manners, in parallel with a heavy fire by air and artillery weapons, while the enemy uses thermal enemy missiles intensely.”

Currently, violent battles are ongoing in the town of Ziyadia while the army fortified its positions along the line connecting Karkour to Mansoura, passing through Tal Wasit and Ziyarah.

Despite the halting of military operations in the areas opened by the Syrian army, in the Hama and Idlib countryside, and working to avoid any other gaps, the military source indicated that the Syrian army and its supporting factions have fully understood the situation and the progress in the areas of fighting.

The source added, “The breakthroughs in the village of Bahsa were avoided after the influx of people from nearby villages who joined the ranks of the defenders. This boosted the morals of the fighters and provided significant human resources enabling the existing troops to pursue their activities in the form of small groups moving smoothly with high flexibility in rugged areas, especially that residents primarily hail from these areas and are very familiar with their nature.”

A local source stressed to As-Safir that the inhabitants of these villages are well aware of the danger they face in the event these extremists groups advance in the Ghab region, including a large number of villages inhabited by sectarian and religious minorities. “We know well the value of our land, and we will defend it with all our strength. The war here is decisive and existential,” added the source.

Moreover, a military source in Homs countryside said that the Syrian army and security forces, which were stationed in the town of Qaryatayn southeast of Homs withdrew entirely from the town and got stationed in its surroundings after a violent attack by Islamic State (IS) militants, so as to allow the air force to launch its strikes on the extremists concentration positions. The source also minimized the strategic importance of the town, contrary to what was reported by some media outlets.

Furthermore, local sources told As-Safir that IS militants kidnapped more than 150 Syrian Christian citizen from the Khoury, Rahil, Tahan, Malghouj, Kumkum and Satah families, and prevented the rest of the people from leaving the village without paying large sums of money per person.

Regarding the strategic importance of Qaryatayn, the source said, “It is true that it is located on the road to Palmyra but it is not the only way to it. Its strategic importance lies in the fact that it borders villages including several minorities, most notably the towns of Muhin and Sadad, in addition to its proximity to Shouairat, which includes a military airport. The Syrian army and its supporting factions aim to avoid the fall of this town in order to protect civilians on the one hand and secure the airport on the other hand.”

In Homs, the forces defending Jazal oil field responded to a violent attack launched by IS militants as warplanes carried out several raids on IS concentration points in Palmyra.

Also, Syrian military sources said the army carried out an operation in Rabia area in the Latakia countryside, 60 kilometers [37 miles] north of Latakia City, killing 36 militants and destroying a truck loaded with munitions.

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