On Feb. 12, the newly formed Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) and other insurgent groups launched an offensive against Bashar al Assad’s regime in the southern city of Daraa. Two HTS suicide bombers were deployed at the beginning of the battle. HTS includes al Qaeda’s arm in Syria.
Al Qaeda’s rebranded guerrilla army in Syria is fighting alongside other jihadists, Islamists and Free Syrian Army-branded rebels in an offensive intended to break the Assad regime’s siege of Aleppo. Most of the participating groups belong to two coalitions: Jaysh al Fath (“Army of Conquest”) and Fatah Halab (“Aleppo Conquest”). These same two alliances tried and failed to break the siege earlier this year.
More than 20 jihadist, Islamist and other rebel organizations took part in the offensive to break the siege of Aleppo. It was likely one of the largest combined efforts in the history of the Syrian war.
Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham have issued eulogies for Zahran Alloush, the leader of Jaysh al Islam, who was killed in an airstrike outside of Damascus on Dec. 25. Alloush portrayed himself and his organization as “moderate” in comparison to the Islamic State, but that was not an apt description for him.
Jaysh al Islam is reportedly using captured civilians and fighters as human shields to deter airstrikes in the Al Ghouta region of Damascus.
The Islamic State has seized towns and villages in Aleppo province, provoking a counterattack from several rebel organizations. The “caliphate’s” move may have been timed to disrupt its jihadist rivals’ advances in northern Syria.
The “Battle of Victory” coalition, which includes the Al Nusrah Front and several other jihadist groups, has declared victory in the city of Jisr Al Shughur. The battle for the city began several days ago and was the next step in the jihadists’ plans for conquering all of northwestern Syria. A highly influential al Qaeda-linked ideologue was reportedly wounded in the fighting.
Is the Islamic State’s next target Daraa or Ghouta?