In past weeks, government forces pushed to seal off the Turkish border. Controlling this boundary would further cramp rebel supply lines. ISIS menaces northern Aleppo and instigated fighting there in recent months, their natural supply lines increasingly cut off by a YPG and SDF activities.
Damascus now aims to restore government control to the northern border. This will insulate the government’s coastal possessions from opposition controlled Idlib. Bashar al- Assad could also thumb his nose at Ankara, which the Syrian government accuses of aiding opposition groups with geography as well as arms and funding.
Last Monday in Latakia, loyalist forces attacked the southern part of Tartiyah, according to al- Masdar News. Those attacking Tartiyah set out from a base in Kafr Delbeh, according to the report. Another group reportedly hit Salma. This resulted in government forces claiming positions in the southern part of both towns, wrote al- Masdar News.
Fighting erupted throughout Jabal al- Turkman and Jabal al- Akrad, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Multiple reports indicated fighting around Jabal al- Nuba continued throughout the day. The government advanced in the area, the last one said.
Footage of government operations in the north of Latakia.
Loyalists also fought for Firinlik Forest in the northernmost part of Latakia, al- Masdar News wrote. Government forces also bested opposition forces in a clash at Jabal al- Nuba, according to al- Masdar News. SOHR also reported the ongoing struggle for Jabal al- Nuba. Government jets and shelling rocked Salma and surrounding areas, wrote the Observatory.
On Wednesday, government forces achieved full control of Jabal al- Nuba, as claimed by al- Masdar News. After a chink developed in their lines, rebel forces retreated, wrote al- Masdar News. The site proclaimed these gains a victory for Syria and Russia in the wake of Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet.
NDF video from around Jabal al- Nuba.
Fighting continued throughout the mountains and government forces took Rusiyyet al- Dibat, wrote SOHR. Airstrikes targeted Salma and Jabal al- Turkman, while Jabal al- Nuba remained hot, reported the Observatory.
The heights of Jabal al- Nuba overlook the opposition stronghold in Salma, according to reports. Control of location reportedly provides a good place to deploy artillery, which could provide cover during a government try for Salma.
— Военный Советник (@miladvisor) December 16, 2015
— Ivan Sidorenko (@IvanSidorenko1) December 16, 2015
The next day, SOHR continued to report fighting around Jabal al- Nuba and throughout Jabal al- Turkman. Planes bombed areas around Jabal al- Turkman, Jabal al- Akrad and in Salma, wrote the Observatory. Rebel and Islamic factions reportedly killed a government soldier in Jableh.
— Islamic World News (@A7_Mirza) December 17, 2015
On Friday, government forces took Jabal al- Sayyid and fighting broke out around Jabal al- Zahiyah, al- Masdar News reported. The recent government victory at Jabal al- Nuba is part of the greater strategy for capturing Salma, according to al- Masdar News.
Warplanes struck Salma and Jabal al- Akrad, wrote SOHR. Ground fighting occurred around Sheikh Sayed and Etyria while planes hit Jabal al- Turkman and Jabal al- Akrad, SOHR reported. Opposition forces sought to rebuff government advances around Tal SyriaTel, Atayra and Jabal al- Aswad, according to the Observatory.
— F1ea1337 (@F1ea1337) December 18, 2015
On Saturday, pro-government al- Masdar News reported Jabhat al- Nusra’s recapture of Jabal al- Sayyid. However the site disputed claims that opposition forces retook Jabal al- Nuba, though they acknowledged that fighting continued there.
Jabhat al- Nusra fighters interviewed around Jabal al- Akrad.
1st Coastal Division deploys concealed tank in Latakia mountains.
Jabhat al- Sham boasts control of Jabal al- Nuba.
— Ivan Sidorenko (@IvanSidorenko1) December 19, 2015
Ever since Jaysh al- Fatah stormed Idlib, the primarily Shia towns of Fu’ah and Kafraya have been surrounded. During the government’s push in Zabadani, opposition forces used this to their advantage, shelling the towns to try to leverage a deal for their comrades to the southwest. After several dodgy ceasefires, Shia militias are very eager to spring the residents. Some of these groups are spearheading an offensive in southern Aleppo, which threatens to extend itself into Idlib. The eventual goal of this push appears to be the 40,000 civilians reported to be inside the Fu’ah and Kafraya pocket.
As part of a deal with the government, roughly 180 Jabhat al- Nusra fighters entered Idlib from Daraa, SOHR reported. The al- Qaeda affiliated group is said to be releasing Iranian prisoners in exchange.
Helicopters dropped ordinance on al- Hbeit, wrote SOHR. Other strikes reportedly hit al- Najia, Saraqeb and Sermin. Pro-government air power reportedly destroyed a fuel market in Ma’arat al- Nassan, devastating the surrounding area. The market mainly sold petrol bought from Islamic State territory, according to al- Jazeera.
Aftermath of the bombing of an oil Market in Ma’arat al- Nassan
Advancing east from Jabal al- Katf, government forces took Shayr al- Sahaab and Point 793, according to al- Masdar News. The areas overlook the Idlib governorate, and reportedly pertain to a government attempt on al- Sirmaniya.
Airstrikes hit al- Taman’aa and al- Najiyya, according to SOHR. Government forces shelled al- Hbeit, reported the Observatory. FARS News reported the destruction of several opposition depots in the region.
On Wednesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported 59 sorties hit 212 targets over the previous day. Oil trucks stood noted among their list of targets.
On Thursday, Russian language site White Minaret published photos of a military store in Idlib. Friday saw al- Heibt, al- Najia, Kansafra, Hershaf al- Kasabia bombed, wrote SOHR.
Ma’arat al- Nu’man residents commemorate the death of a rebel commander.
Planes struck al- Taman’aa and Khan Sheikhoun, SOHR wrote. Another raid struck a market in Idlib city, killing at least 43 according to Reuters. Around 150 people were reportedly wounded by a minimum of six strikes.
al- Masdar News reported the killing of more than 40 Islamist rebels from Jaysh al- Fatah during a Russian Air Force raid on Idlib city. The target was a building containing Idlib’s rebel instituted Sharia court. They also hit the Idlib Air Force Intelligence headquarters, which housed Islamist fighters and Muslim Brotherhood members, claimed al- Masdar News.
Blaming Muslim Brotherhood social media activists for spreading misinformation, al- Masdar News denied that Russian planes targeted civilians. After researching the locations, their staff reported that only one civilian casualty occurred. They claimed that person to be a Civil Defense member who collaborated with Jabhat al- Nusra during executions.
— Hassan Ridha (@sayed_ridha) December 20, 2015
Government troops squared off with the opposition around Jisr al- Shugour, Khan Sheikhoun and al- Taman’aa, according to FARS News. FARS News wrote that this was part of their ongoing operation “to purge the country of the Takfiri militants.”
In Hama, Loyalists and rebel forces fought around al- Buwayda, al- Masasina and Zalin checkpoint on Monday. The government reportedly advanced in these areas. Government forces carried out bombardment across the province, hitting areas around al- Lataminah and al- Zakat, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Opposition forces sustained heavy losses, according to SANA.
— Islamic World News (@A7_Mirza) December 14, 2015
Government forces held off Jund al- Aqsa’s assault, thwarting their attempts to take areas along the road near Soran, al- Masdar News reported the next day. Despite opposition forces initially seizing the towns, government reinforcements reportedly arrived and reclaimed the area.
Jaysh al- Izza shows off loot captured in northern Hama.
Jaysh al- Nasr tank hit in Hama countryside.
Near Sarmaniyeh, government forces took Sheir al- Sahab, according to SANA. The SAA attack Ahrar al- Sham in al- Taman’aa, according to the report. Clashes occurred at a rebel command post in al- Hbeit, wrote SANA.
Following up on Jund al- Aqsa’s attack in the east, government forces attacked and took Tal Huwayr, al- Masdar News wrote. The development reportedly brought government lines closer to Morek.
In the northern countryside, jets struck Kafr Zita, Kafr Naboudeh and Morek, according to SOHR. Airstrikes also hit Lahaya and Lataminah, according to the Obervatory. Ground fighting broke out around Morek, al- Janbrah and Zellin checkpoint, the reports read. The struggle continued in Janbrah, but SOHR wrote of government advances around Zellin checkpoint.
ElDorar wrote that rebel forces held the line at al- Kem, near Jurin in western Hama. Rebel forces hit the government in Tal Salhab with grad rockets, according to ElDorar. They also noted the bombardment of Kafr Naboudeh and Zakat by government forces.
Not sure this democracy thing is going well. Idlib source tells me this is Ahrar ashSham sign:"Democracy = idolatry" pic.twitter.com/ZmEV6JkBvM
— Harald Doornbos (@HaraldDoornbos) December 17, 2015
On Friday, SOHR reported the shelling of several targets by government forces in the east of Hama. Following that, loyalists targeted Ma’er Kebbah, according to the Observatory. Jaysh al- Fatah attacked loyalist checkpoints in al- Magier, Orient News wrote. Airstrikes shook al- Masasnah and al- Lataminah, according to Orient News.
— Peto Lucem (@PetoLucem) December 19, 2015
Jaysh al- Izza TOW strike near Soran.
For background about Jaysh al- Fatah, check out last week’s writeup. (Links from December 7 – 14)
Start at the beginning with my fall of Idlib post. (Links from 2011 – Summer 2015)