Intense fighting among rival foreign-sponsored Takfiri militant groups in the restive northwestern part of Syria has provided the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorists with the opportunity to wrest control over the predominantly Kurdish city of Afrin in Aleppo province, which had been held by Turkish-backed forces.
On Thursday, HTS members pushed heavily armed convoys into Afrin and the surrounding countryside, and they are now reportedly heading towards the city of Azaz, located 32 kilometers (roughly 20 miles) northwest of Aleppo.
Local sources said at least a dozen militants have also been killed since last week, when a hit squad affiliated to the Hamzah Division of the Turkish-backed and so-called Syrian National Army (SNA) shot dead Muhammad Abdul Latif, a prominent activist commonly known as Abo Ghanoum.
Abo Ghanoum’s killing subsequently outraged the residents of al-Bab city, where he lived and died. The latest developments prompted locals to demand the dissolution of the Hamzah Division.
“The Hamzah Division is a group of displaced fighters from Aleppo that enjoy Turkish intelligence and military support, and it receives special support from Turkish experts to develop local armored vehicles similar to Turkish ones,” a source said on condition of anonymity.
Locally, the Hamzah Division is nicknamed “Turkey’s spoiled child.”
The HTS, by far the strongest remaining militant group in Aleppo, has allied with former foes including the Hamzah Division, Sultan Suleiman Shah Division, Ahrar al-Sham and the remnants of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, all terror outfits belonging to the so-called Syrian National Army.
Afrin has been under control of Turkey and its allied militant groups since 2018, following a Turkey-backed military operation that pushed Syrian Kurdish fighters and thousands of Kurdish residents from the area.
Since then, Afrin and surrounding villages have been the site of attacks on Turkish and Turkey-backed targets.
Turkey has deployed forces in Syria in violation of the Arab country’s territorial integrity.
Ankara-backed militants were deployed to northeastern Syria in October 2019 after Turkish military forces launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion in a declared attempt to push militants of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from border areas.
Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.
The Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria says the Turkish offensive has killed hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children since it started.
Turkey has played a major role in supporting terrorists in Syria ever since a major foreign-backed insurgency overtook the country more than ten years ago.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other senior officials have said the Damascus government will respond through all legitimate means available to the ongoing ground offensive by Turkish forces and allied Takfiri militants in the northern part of the war-battered Arab country.