On Wednesday, an agreement was reached to halt hostilities in the eastern region of Syria, involving a Kurdish-led militia with US support and Arab insurgents. This development coincided with ongoing negotiations by Washington to establish a revised regional framework. Simultaneously, in the southern Idleb region, hundreds of civilians have been forced to evacuate due to intense airstrikes by government forces in the Syrian rebel-held area of Jabal al-Zawiya over the past few days.
Deal struck to end Arab tribal insurgency against US allies in Syria
A deal was struck on Wednesday to end fighting between US-allied Kurdish-dominated militia and Arab insurgents in a strategic area of Syria as Washington negotiates a revamped order for the region, as reported by Abu Dhabi The National.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia took control of most of Diban, near the Euphrates River in the Deir-ez-Zor governorate, after a deal with Arab fighters whom the militia had surrounded, the sources said.
They are led by Ibrahim Al Hafl, a major figure in the Okeidat tribe, one of Syria’s largest. The tribal force concentrated in Diban after Mr Hafl challenged Kurdish control over the mostly Arab area.
“A deal has been reached under which the Okeidat save face,” said a Kurdish source in the SDF-dominated administration in east Syria, without giving details.
Asked about Mr Hafl, the source said “he is on the run”.
The insurgency has exposed defects in US-supervised ethnic alliances set up in east Syria in the past eight years, mainly to fight ISIS.
The east comprises the bulk of the US zone of influence in Syria, adjacent to areas controlled by Turkish and Iranian proxies. But the US zone is responsible for most of Syria’s oil and wheat production.
Both dropped sharply since the civil war, which started in 2011, after the authorities used force to suppress a peaceful protest movement against President Bashar Al Assad.
Large parts of Syria have since been fragmented into zones run by factions financed by Iran, the US, Russia and Turkey.
In the east, the administration and local military forces, including the SDF, are ultimately controlled by the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish militia more commonly known as the YPG.
The anti-SDF insurgency started after Abu Khalwa, an Arab tribal ally of the SDF in Deir-ez-Zor, was arrested last month, prompting calls among the tribes to rid the area of Kurdish militia control, and demands that the United States deals directly with the area, and not through the SDF.
Hundreds flee regime ‘scorched earth’ bombing of Idleb region
Hundreds of civilians have fled the Syrian rebel-held area of Jabal Al-Zawiya in southern Idleb over the past few days due to fierce regime bombing, The New Arab reported.
The Syrian Civil Defence, also known as The White Helmets, said that 60 attacks had taken place in the first three days of September and that eight civilians had been killed, while 23 had been injured.
The correspondent of The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed said this was the worst bombing Jabal Al-Zawiya area had experienced in three years. One of the victims was a child, killed as his family tried to flee the shelling.
Syrian regime forces have adopted a “scorched earth” policy after rebel forces seized control of the Malaja hill in southern Idleb province a few days before, he said.
More than a thousand regime shells and bombs have rained down on southern Idleb province as of Tuesday, with such ferocity that the latest bombardment has prevented civilians from fleeing.
On Monday, two other children – who were sisters – were injured when shelling struck the refugee camp in Sarmin in eastern Idleb province, where they were sheltering with their family after fleeing the Jabal Al-Zawiya area.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Russian warplanes had also bombed the village of Fatira in southern Idleb province as the regime shelled Jabal al-Zawiya province.
Idleb province is home to around 4 million people, nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of Syria by the Assad regime.
A ceasefire agreement brokered by Turkey and Russia has theoretically been in effect there since March 2020 but it is frequently violated by regime and Russian forces.
MMC reveals HTS stations on contact lines with SDF in Syria’s Manbij
Manbij Military Council (MMC), affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said on Wednesday their forces detected a positioning of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front) in villages in the countryside of Manbij, northern Syria, after expelling their original citizens, North Press, a Kurdish news agency has reported.
The MMC stated via its official account that they detected the presence of HTS militants particularly in the villages of al-Yashli and Sheikh Nasser, 19km in the northwest of Manbij.
The HTS evacuated the villages and set up heavy weapons there. These movements came after the MMC thwarted all of the attacks launched by Turkish-backed armed opposition factions, aka the Syrian National Army (SNA), in the past few days, it added.
The SNA factions have been attacking the countryside of Manbij since Sep. 1, following the clashes that erupted between the SDF and gunmen affiliated with Syrian government forces and Iranian-backed militias in Deir ez-Zor Governorate, eastern Syria.
The MMC announced on Sep. 4 the killing and injury of 74 militants while deterring these attacks.
Meanwhile, Commander-in-chief of the SDF, Mazloum Abdi, told al-Arabiya al-Hadath news channel that Turkey intensified its attacks against their forces in tandem with the tension in Deir ez-Zor.
A military source within the opposition told North Press that HTS sent 75 militants from the Red Band factions to back the gunmen in the countryside of Deir ez-Zor.
Displaced Syrians forced to build hideouts in the caves of Jabal al-Zawiya
In Jabal al-Zawiya there is a dark, narrow rock passageway that eventually leads to an illuminated cave, Al-Jazeera reported.
This is where Ahmed Khalil lives with his family. The 53-year-old father of four from the village of Kansafra south of Idleb brought everyone here to get away from continuous shelling by Syrian regime forces.
Khalil dug the cave himself, using primitive tools, after his son was killed in a shelling on his village five years ago.
They use battery power to light the cave, which is furnished simply, with a large rug where the family spends most of its time, one end of it covered with children’s toys. A shelf bearing the family’s necessities is in one corner.
The family is not exactly happy staying there, even temporarily, Khalil told Al Jazeera. “This cave … is like a tomb, we cannot leave it because of the continuous shelling in the area,” Khalil said.
“These caves are not suitable for humans. They’re so damp, people get sick, especially children. But they’re still safer than our houses,” Khalil said.
Villages and towns in Zawiya in the Idleb countryside, close to the front lines with Syrian regime forces, have been subjected to an intensive artillery shelling campaign, the strongest in months, leading to the displacement of some residents to the northern countryside of Idleb.
In March 2020, Turkey and Russia reached a ceasefire agreement in the Idleb de-escalation zone after the Syrian regime took control of vast areas in the countryside of Idleb, Hama and Aleppo.
However, this agreement is constantly violated by the Syrian regime forces.
“For the past 10 days, we have been living in this cave, and I only leave to get some bread and water and return quickly. I fear the shelling and the reconnaissance aircraft that never leave the area,” Khalil said.
“My children’s mental health is deteriorating, and I fear for them if our stay here is prolonged,” Khalil told Al Jazeera.
What he fears most is that the cave he is in will be hit. It lacks ventilation openings and does not have an emergency exit, meaning they are trapped if its only entrance is blocked.
“In Idleb province, there is no safe place to go because the [Bashar al-Assad] regime and Russia have not spared any city or village from their bombings and displacement of its residents,” Khalil added.