Anxiety looms in Northeastern Syria over jihadist advance
People in Al Bab, Mare and Soran of Northeastern Syria took to the streets on Saturday against Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which reportedly continues arrests in Afrin and wants to advance to Azez, a strategic point in the region.
The demonstrators chanted slogans against HTS leader Abu Mohammed Colani, and burned his posters, protesting that HTS members broke into homes in Afrin and looted people's property, according to Rudaw.
After taking over the city from the third legion and ruled for ten days, HTS has been withdrawing at least some of its forces from Afrin after Turkey deployed troops on Tuesday in the region in an attempt to act as a buffer between fighting factions.
But some HTS fighters and military police remain in Afrin as part of a joint administration agreement reached last week, the sources told The New Arab.
Even though HTS is withdrawing, they still retain influence in the region through their allies within the Syrian National Army, Forbes said. These allies largely consist of Turkmen-dominated groups who sided with the HTS during the battle. They have been left in place to govern the areas.
HTS, a jihadist group that is the dominant power in Syria's Idlib Governorate, was the main affiliate of al-Qaeda in Syria until 2018 and is designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
HTS' seizure Afrin, which was mostly Kurdish until the Turkish incursion in 2018, coincided with Turkey’s moves to establish diplomatic relations with the Syrian regime.
“Though it would have been logical for Turkey to decrease its support of pro-Turkish rebels in Syria after these developments, the opposite occurred. The HTS, which is the main target of Russia and the regime, gained control beyond Afrin into surrounding areas,” Forbes commented.