Violent confrontations and bloody clashes continued on Thursday for the fourth day in a row between the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army factions and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which allied with the Hamza Division and Sultan Suleiman Shah Division and took control of Afrin city and a number of surrounding villages in northern Syria’s Aleppo province.
Humanitarian organizations and the Syrian Civil Defense - known as the White Helmets - called on all parties to spare civilians and the displaced from the conflict, and to facilitate the work of rescue teams.
Activists in Afrin reported that tanks and military vehicles belonging to HTS entered the city, supported by the Hamza Division (Al-Hamzat) and Sultan Suleiman Shah Division (Al-Amashat), encircling it from all sides and imposing their full control.
This was followed by the withdrawal of the Levant Front, the Third Legion and Jaysh al-Islam factions form their bases, towards the city of Azaz, north of the city of Afrin, while several factions have declared neutrality and their refusal to engage in the fighting.
After its full control over the city, HTS published a statement on Telegram, conveying messages of reassurance to citizens of all ethnic affiliations.
“HTS confirms that the Arab and Kurdish people… or the displaced are the subject of our attention and appreciation, and we warn them against listening to the factional interests… We specifically mention the Kurdish brothers; they are the people of those areas and it is our duty to protect them and provide services to them,” the statement read.
Hundreds of families are still besieged in the neighborhoods near Al-Marwaha roundabout in the city of Al-Bab as a result of the clashes between the Hamza Division and the Third Corps, amid calls and appeals to allow civilians to leave for the sake of their safety.
Muayyad al-Najjar, an opposition activist, said that HTS and Al-Amashat factions managed to control the areas of Turaykhem, Zughra, and Al-Hamran commercial crossing, while violent clashes continue between the two parties in and around the city of Al-Bab, where two civilians died, including a child, and many were seriously injured.
Civilian activists in the city of Al-Bab organized a vigil, calling for an end to the fighting between the factions.
Leaders in the Ankara-backed Syrian National Army factions said that the alliance of some of the factions affiliated with the army, such as the Hamza Division, Sultan Suleiman Shah Division, and other factions, with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, thwarted all efforts to build the army and consolidate its unity.
However, factions allied with HTS see that the latter’s entry into the Olive Branch areas and its involvement in the ongoing confrontations there, would put “an end to the project of the Third Corps and its ally (Jaysh al-Islam), which aspires to engulf the other factions and control decision-making in the areas of Turkish operations (the Euphrates Shield, the Olive Branch, and the Peace Spring).
Observers believe that Türkiye’s silence and its failure to take a firm military position against the involvement of HTS in the ongoing fighting between the opposition factions, highlights its consent to the ongoing intervention.
Others noted that HTS’ involvement in the fighting, amid Turkish silence, constituted a threat that would put the SDF and its allies before one option: A Turkish military operation, or a military operation by HTS.