Jihadist group enters Turkish-occupied city in Northeast Syria
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist group that is the dominant power in Syria's Idlib Governorate, took over control of the northeastern city of Afrin, various sources reported on Thursday.
The Kurdish-majority city was occupied by the Turkish military and its proxies in 2018 in a large scale Turkish incursion into Northeast Syria. Ankara claims that it was an anti-terror operation.
According to a report by North Press Agency, HTS has been supported in its recent move by some Turkish-backed factions, including "al-Hamza" and "Suleiman Shah" divisions, in clashes with another Turkish-backed faction, "the Third Legion."
عفرين— Ayman Abdel Nour (@aabnour) October 13, 2022
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HTS gained full control over al-Mahmoudiya neighborhood and Afrin Hospital, turning the hospital into its headquarters after expelling the medical team, the report said.
Syria's state news agency SANA confirmed heavy clashes between "al-Hamza" division and "the Third Legion."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said HTS was engaged in clashes amid an "ongoing infighting between Turkish-backed factions," and that this resulted in Afrin's occupation by HTS.
Turkish journalist and ME analyst Fehim Tastekin said on Twitter:
"While the world has been focused on Ukraine, HTS entered Afrin. And it did so as it received the support of some Turkish-backed factions against some others!"
A former Syrian military figure defined the HTS's occupation of Afrin as a "hand over."
Speaking to Voice of America, Ahmed Rahal who currently works as a military analyst in Istanbul said:
"Handing over Afrin this way and the withdrawal of SNA [Syrian National Army backed by Turkey] fighters from the city show that these fighters don't have a plan nor a desire to fight."
HTS that was the main affiliate of al-Qaida in Syria until 2018 is designated a terrorist organization by the United States.