PHOTO: Fighters in the Turkish-rebel offensive in Bzaah village, east of the town of al-Bab
Racing to take the town of al-Bab in northwest Sria from the Islamic State, both the Turkish-rebel offensive and pro-Assad forces claimed advances on Saturday.
The Turkish-rebel offensive captured the village of Bzaah to the east of al-Bab. But the pro-Assad troops, who have closed within 6 km (3.5 miles), moved into Aran to the south (see map).
However, a report from a pro-opposition activist later said that the Islamic State had pushed the Turkish-rebel troops out of Bzaah, raising new questions about the effectiveness of the offensive.
Al-Bab is the last major position of ISIS in Aleppo Province, after the Turkish-rebel offensive from last August took the corridor along the Turkish-Syrian border and pressed south. The assault on al-Bab was launched in early December; however, it has struggled against ISIS resistance including suicide vehicle bombs and improvised explosive devices.
Last week, the Assad regime’s military command highlighted its own effort to take al-Bab, proclaiming that its advance had recaptured 32 towns and villages from Islamic State, as well as a 16-km (10 mile) portion of the highway from Aleppo city to al-Bab.
A “source in the military alliance” supporting the regime said the pro-Assad force was ready “to clash with the FSA [Free Syrian Army] fighting” alongside Turkey, if necessary.
The Foreign Ministry sent letters to the UN, criticized the Turkish-rebel captures of villages near al-Bab and condemned “Turkey’s repeated crimes and attacks against the Syrian people and violations of the sanctity and unity of Syria’s territory”.
Ankara has said that it will not hand over al-Bab to the Assad regime until a political settlment is reached.
Video from the pro-opposition STEP News Agency highlighting “the race to al-Bab”:
Fighters from the Turkish-rebel offensive in the center of Bzaah village:
Report: US-Led Airstrike Kills Ahrar al-Sham Commander
A US-led airstrike has reportedly killed another commander of the leading rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham.
Abu Hani al-Masri, a 65-year-old Egyptian, was killed near the village of Batbo in western Aleppo Province. He was a veteran of fighting in Afghanistan and Somalia.
The US has declared a campaign of “targeted killing” of the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, now the leader of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham coalition. In recent weeks, scores of commmanders and fighters of JFS — formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra before it formally broke ties with Al Qa’eda in July 2016 — have died in strikes.
However, the American assaults have also killed members of Ahrar al-Sham, the largest group in the Syrian rebellion.
Ahrar al-Sham is now standing uneasily against the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham coalition, having pledged to protect factions from attacks by JFS last month.