Last week, the hardline Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) took over the town of Afrin in Northwestern Syria. The town was under the control of pro-Turkish opposition factions. HTS’ operation led to widespread outrage inside and outside Syria. For example, the opposition website Zaman al-Wasl reported that dozens of residents of the Turkish-controlled areas northeast of the Aleppo province went out on Sunday in demonstrations in several towns and villages, expressing their refusal to the control of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” (formerly known as Nusra Front) on several towns in the region, following bloody clashes with opposition factions. The news outlet even reported that on Saturday, the people and activists of Azaz in the northern countryside of Aleppo prevented a parade of “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” from entering the city after standing in the face of the column and blocking roads by firing tires, expressing their refusal to enter the area.
The U.S. Condemns
The Kurdish agency North Press said that Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus said its country is “deeply concerned” over developments in Syria’s northwest and called for immediate withdrawal of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front) from Afrin north of Aleppo. On its Facebook account, the Embassy said, “We are alarmed by the recent incursion of HTS, a designated terrorist organization, into northern Aleppo.”
The pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat has reported that following the invasion by the HTS, Turkish troops deployed on Tuesday in an area in northwestern Syria to try to halt fighting between the rival opposition factions.
Turkish tanks and armoured vehicles took up positions around Kafr Jana, a rugged area that the main extremist opposition group HTS seized on Monday from two rival factions belonging to a coalition of rebel forces backed by Ankara.
Turkish army and security officers worked to bring the warring factions back to the negotiating table to implement a peace deal reached last Saturday that led to a one-day respite from five days of clashes that left scores dead on both sides.
“Turkey has now intervened to stop the conflict and prevent Hayat Tahrir al-Sham from progressing and to get both sides to the negotiating table to implement the accord,” Waiel Olwan, a former opposition official in touch with both sides, told Reuters.
The Turkish intervention paved the way for the application of a factional agreement between the various opposition groups operating in the Northwest, according to al-Modon.
U.S. Pressure on Turkey
The opposition website al-Souria Net reported that the Turkish intervention occurred due to American pressure. On Wednesday, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that the U.S. pressured Turkey to intervene and stop the expansion of HTS in northwestern Syria.
The institute quoted one of the “sources close to the negotiations in Afrin” as saying that the goal of HTS’ expansion was to dissolve the Levant Front faction.
“The Americans threatened to allow the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to enter the area if the Turks don’t make Julani leave Afrin,” the institute said.
The institute quoted several sources in Afrin as saying, “HTS has left Afrin, but the security services (affiliated with it) are still there.”
The U.S. embassy in Syria, through its Twitter account, expressed concern about the progress of HTS in the region last Tuesday.
In its tweet, the U.S. embassy demanded that HTS, designated as an international terrorist organization, be immediately withdrawn from the region.
In recent days, HTS has been able to advance into the Afrin area in the northwestern countryside of Aleppo. This came after armed confrontations broke out between the Levant Front on the one hand and the factions of Sultan Suleiman Shah and the Hamza Division on the other.
Its advancement came in support of the Hamza and Sultan Salimah Shah factions while reaching the border of the city of Azaz in the northern countryside of Aleppo. It is the most prominent area of influence of the Levant Front, which forms the pillar of the Third Corps in the Syrian National Army.
HTS and the Third Corps agreed afterwards, which stipulated ten clauses. Clashes erupted again amid accusations by each side of the other of breaking the agreement.
In light of the intense clashes in the Kafr Jana region, Turkey intervened and deployed separation forces from the Thaeron movement. In addition, the Turkish army reinforced its deployment in the area.