Events took a sharp turn on Friday when Syria’s insurgents hit back at the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham across the north of the country.
ISIS sowed the seeds for the confrontation. Accused of detentions, abuses, and kidnappings, its killing of Dr Hussein al-Suleimani sparked national protests on Friday. Meanwhile, ISIS launched an attack on insurgent factions in Atareb in Aleppo Province.
The assault appears to have been ill-advised. By Sunday night, ISIS had not only been defeated in Atareb but had withdrawn from towns such as al-Dana and Atmeh. It threatened to withdraw from its front-line positions in Aleppo, giving them up to regime forces; however, other reports indicated ISIS may be re-grouping for a fight with other insurgents in Syria’s largest city.
The developments diverted attention from the state of the fight between the regime and the insurgency. The opposition had a notable victory with the capture of the Jassim barracks in Daraa Province in southern Syria. However, amid a self-imposed news blackout by the insurgency, there was little evidence of significant advance by either Assad’s forces or the opposition elsewhere.
Politically, chatter about a possible international “peace” conference on January 22 died down. Russia, which has pressed for the gathering, was notably silent, although the US said that Syrian ally Iran might be able to “contribute from the sidelines”.
On the humanitarian front, Amnesty International wrote of poor conditions for Syrians fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan while the United Nations warned that the total number of refugees could be 4.1 million by the end of 2014. An article for EA offered a first-hand look at the situation in Jordan’s Zaatari camp.
Provided insurgents such as the Islamic Front bloc remain united in their determination to push back the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham, the confrontation will end in an ISIS retreat, with withdrawal from its position of authority in northern towns and possibly Raqqa, the largest city held by the insurgency.
If ISIS decides on a showdown, it is likely to lose, given that it is far out-numbered by insurgent factions. However, a fight — especially in Aleppo — could open up space for the Assad regime to take advantage.
Elsewhere, look for further insurgent attempts to press the regime from East Ghouta, near Damascus, and from the south in Daraa Province. Advances could “box in” the regime’s high-profile Qalamoun offensive, which has tried since November to secure territory between Damascus and the Lebanese border.
There is no prospect for a meaningful international “peace” conference on January 22.
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