Tahrir al-Sham seizes control of western rural Aleppo
By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo
Tahrir al-Sham has been able, over the past few days, to expand its presence in rural Aleppo and Idlib provinces at the expense of a number of armed Syrian opposition groups who had controlled the region, a Syrian activist said.
The extremist alliance now controls all of western rural Aleppo and most of the rural areas in the province's north, as well as most of the outer edges of Idlib province, local activist Haisam al-Idlibi told Diyaruna.
Fighting that broke out a few days ago in western rural Aleppo between Tahrir al-Sham and Nureddine al-Zinki culminated in the entire area falling to Tahrir al-Sham, and the withdrawal of all elements of Nureddine al-Zinki.
Tahrir al-Sham also expanded its presence in rural Hama and Idlib, and entered the western Aleppo city of al-Atareb after besieging it and threatening to storm it, he said.
A ceasefire agreement was reached between the groups that controlled the city and Tahrir al-Sham, however, that saw the extremist alliance entering the city and the withdrawal of Thuwar al-Sham and Bayareq al-Islam.
Under the agreement, fighters from these two groups were transported to the Afrin region, al-Idlibi said.
The fighting was mainly between Tahrir al-Sham and groups affiliated with the Syrian Liberation Front, which now controls no more than a handful of positions in northern Syria after the extremist alliance's latest expansion.
Syrian Liberation Front struggles
In the wake of the recent fighting, the Syrian Liberation Front -- a group that comprises Nureddine al-Zinki and Ahrar al-Sham, along with other opposition factions -- has lost much of its strength, al-Idlibi said.
Tahrir al-Sham insisted that Nureddine al-Zinki and all other groups hand over their medium and heavy weapons in exchange for being allowed to withdraw to the Afrin region.
"Some elements of Nureddine al-Zinki accepted Tahrir al-Sham’s offer to join its ranks, while most opted to withdraw after the group was disbanded," he said.
In southern rural Idlib, an agreement was reached between Ahrar al-Sham and Suqur al-Sham that called for the handover of some areas on the eastern outskirts of the city of Maarat al-Numan to Tahrir al-Sham, al-Idlibi said.
These include the villages and towns of al-Haraki, Jarjanaz, al-Ghadfa and Talmans, he added, noting that "Tahrir al-Sham is insisting on taking over specific cities and areas, particularly Maarat al-Numan and Ariha".
The Syrian Liberation Front has been trying to reach a joint agreement to co-administer these areas, al-Idlibi said, "while Tahrir al-Sham is insisting on taking full control of them".