Tension is high and there have been sporadic skirmishes in the eastern Idlib province city of Sarmin and its environs following fierce fighting between the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and Tahrir al-Sham, an activist said.
Recent battles between the rival extremists culminated in the withdrawal of ISIS elements from the area, with Tahrir al-Sham in hot pursuit.
ISIS elements had held positions at several points in and around Sarmin, activist Haisam al-Idlibi told Diyaruna.
Local dignitaries tried to strike an agreement to spare the city from being caught up in any fighting that might erupt between the two sides, he said.
But the agreement fell apart, and Tahrir al-Sham launched a wide-scale assault, attacking all ISIS bases in the area and forcing ISIS to withdraw from them all.
The extremist alliance is now conducting a sweep of the area that is expected to last days in search of ISIS elements who might be hiding in nearby towns, fields or forested areas, al-Idlibi said.
Executions and casualties
During the recent fighting, ISIS executed eight militants it had captured previously, al-Idlibi said. Three were Tahrir al-Sham elements, and the rest were elements of other armed groups.
Tahrir al-Sham killed or wounded dozens of ISIS elements, he said, and captured many others, "including a number of emirs and security officials".
"After its assault on Sarmin, Tahrir al-Sham’s crackdown expanded to all areas of eastern rural Idlib, particularly the town of Maasaran," al-Idlibi said.
Here the alliance detained a number of ISIS elements and leaders, some of whom had been active in the city of al-Raqa, he said.
Tahrir al-Sham also seized full control of the towns and villages of Jawbas, al-Nerab and Qminas, and "blocked all the main roads in the area to facilitate its raids and the movement of its elements", al-Idlibi said.
The extremist alliance then set up a large number of checkpoints throughout eastern rural Idlib and has been monitoring the identity documents of travelers in search of ISIS elements whose names are on its lists, he said.