The military and civil uprising in north and northwest Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has expanded amid plummeting morale among ISIS fighters, accompanied by acts of vengeance for the killing and mutilation of prisoners. Reinforcements from the movement’s headquarters are being sent to the eastern part of the country to stop the deterioration of the situation in northern Aleppo. In return, the Sharia authority in Aleppo and Jabhat al-Nusra, along with some of the Islamic Front formations, have maintained distance between the two sides of the conflict, leaving room for possible mediation between them.
The Mujahedeen Army, which formed recently out of a number of armed organizations in West Aleppo, was the first to take up the battle against ISIS after it infiltrated the city of al-Atarib at the far reaches of the supply lines between the Bab al-Hawa crossing, close to the Turkish border, and Aleppo. A new organization called the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, formed under the leadership of Jamal Maarouf from 14 armed factions in the country’s northwest, also joined the conflict against ISIS.
It has been reported that a group similar to the Mujahedeen Army formed in the Latakia countryside. Known as the Free Latakia Youth Movement, it includes military brigades and factions in Latakia. The movement’s stated purpose is to “combat ISIS, which has brought havoc into Syria.” It was formed to “finish what the Mujahedeen Army began in the north,” according to a statement.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 36 ISIS-affiliated individuals and 17 from other brigades, including five from Jabhat al-Nusra, were killed during clashes that broke out in al-Atarib and expanded into other regions of the Aleppo and Idlib countryside. While the Islamic Front imposed a blockade around the ISIS military headquarters in the village of Dana in the Idlib countryside, the Mujahedeen Army took control of the village of al-Jineh in the western Aleppo countryside, where 60 families were confronted by members of the “state.”
For its part, the Liwa al-Tawhid, one of the Islamic Front brigades, entered into a fierce battle in the village of Maria, the hometown of the founder of Liwa Abdel Qader Saleh, who was killed in an air raid a few weeks ago. The General Authority for the Syrian Revolution reported that the range of clashes had expanded and “The battles had moved from the western countryside villages in al-Atarib to the city’s northern countryside. They reached the villages of Maria, Tel Rafaat, Huriyatein and Andan, leading to the retreat of ISIS from its headquarters there while the Mujahedeen Army took control of them.” It also reported the surrender of the Asia Laboratory to the organization’s fighters.
Families in the village of Izaaz, which was controlled by ISIS a few months ago, demonstrated against the organization’s practices and “were subjected to gunfire from the organization," said the authority, "killing a number of those demonstrating. The organization’s fighters targeted buildings belonging to the Islamic Front along all roads leading up to the city of Aleppo in the northern countryside, setting up roadblocks feeding into Aleppo near the Sheikh Najjar industrial city.” Information was received that ISIS fighters had taken control of the sugar factory in the village of al-Meskenneh, where fighters from the organization had been centered, prompting the killing of a leader from Ahrar al-Sham, Hussein Suleiman, by ISIS during the last wave against the organization. The leadership said, “Everyone senses that there is an opportunity to eradicate ISIS from the region.”
In the Idlib countryside, fighters from the Syrian Revolutionaries Front penetrated the organization’s headquarters in Talminis, where they took control of the town and the weapons there, and jailed certain members of the Islamic Front. The General Authority, meanwhile, said that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters had taken control of Salqin and “released a number of female prisoners who were being detained by ISIS,” which had cleared out of its positions in Samarda to make way for the Islamic Front. The Idlib News Network reported that a group affiliated with ISIS had defected from it in the villages of Kafroma, al-Bara, Marshurin and Talminis in exchange for the withdrawal of another group from Jabal al-Zawiya. The network also reported that ISIS fighters had given up their headquarters in Mashoun in Jabal al-Zawiya to the Syrian Revolutionaries Front without any clashes. An expert told Al-Hayat that ISIS’ presence had not been far-reaching, but rather was based on fear and autocracy. Thus, when the organization is eradicated, their influence will begin to decline.
One of the activists said ISIS fighters had killed 35 prisoners in Harem, north of Idlib near the Turkish border, after the emir of the neighboring Salqin region, Abu Abdullah al-Tunisi, was killed. According to the activist, there were mutilated bodies found belonging to Syrian Revolutionaries Front fighters that had been handed over to the Islamic Front. The General Authority explained that there were a number of deaths on both sides during confrontations in Kafr Zita in the central Hama countryside.
The Syrian Revolutionaries Front had demanded that Syrian ISIS members give up their weapons to the closest Syrian Revolutionaries Front headquarters and declare their disassociation from the organization, calling on migrants to “either join the Syrian Revolutionaries Front or any other faction within the FSA, or to give up their weapons and leave Syria within 24 hours.” The front listed in a statement the series of violations by ISIS, including “attacking the chamber of revolutionary activity surrounding the Liwa 93 in Ain Issa before the brigade briefly infiltrated and imprisoned the leaders of the operation and seized the weapons, munitions stock and two of our tanks. [ISIS also] destroyed our headquarters in the Harem region, imprisoned 30 mujahedeen, took their weapons, destroyed the 13th Division’s headquarters in Kafernel, seized the weapons and munitions there just as they destroyed the media office in Kafernel. Finally, ISIS arrested media figures, attacked revolutionaries in Meskenneh, seized their weapons and munitions and killed a number of them."
The Mujahedeen Army announced in a statement, “After ‘great progress’ against ISIS in the past few days, the arrest of 110 of its members and seizing its heavy weapons aimed at the army, the organization has taken to smearing us as infidels in social media and describing us as ‘Sahwat al-Sham.’ It has also launched false accusations at us, such as working with US Secretary of State John Kerry and holding the women of al-Atarib captive,” stating that the army is distancing itself from being drawn into confrontation with Jabhat al-Nusra.
On the other hand, it has been noted that Jabhat al-Nusra has not joined the conflict despite a number of deaths among its members in al-Atarib on Jan. 3. The Sharia Authority in Aleppo, which is close to it, called on “all disputing parties” to “cease quarreling and head immediately to the fighting fronts.”
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