Members of the Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP), the Uyghur extremist group involved in today’s clashes against the Syrian military. 2020 (Photo credit: hstoday.us)
Russian media reported that on the morning of 14 January, heavy clashes broke out in the northern Lattakia countryside between units of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and militants from a number of extremist factions, including the former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
The Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP), made up of Chinese Uyghur Muslims and known to have received funding from Turkiye, was also involved in the clashes alongside HTS, as well as a militia consisting of ethnic Albanians.
“The armed groups tried to infiltrate one of the sites of the SAA in the town of Nahshaba in Lattakia countryside, taking advantage of the bad weather,” resulting in intense clashes that lasted for a period of about two hours, an on-the-ground source told Sputnik.
As a result of the clashes, three Syrian soldiers were killed, while 18 extremist militants were left dead or wounded, the source added.
The source went on to say that despite the army casualties, the infiltration was “thwarted” successfully, and the SAA responded by “pounding the supply lines of militants and their positions … all the way to … the southwestern Idlib countryside.”
Over the past year, there has been a surge in extremist activity across Syria, particularly by ISIS, which – despite losing most of the territory it previously occupied – still operates in small pockets across the country.
One week ago, an ISIS attack on an SAA patrol left at least two Syrian soldiers dead in the Al-Badia desert region. A week before that, another suspected ISIS attack on Deir Ezzor’s Al-Taim oilfield killed ten workers.
Many have suggested that the recent surge in ISIS activity is being encouraged by Washington to create a pretext to maintain its occupation of the country and its oilfields, which the US claims it is protecting from ISIS.
Today’s clashes suggest a possibility that other extremist factions, particularly those who have received backing from Turkiye, will escalate their activity in the coming days to protest the potential reconciliation that is in the works between Ankara and Damascus.
This is reinforced by the fact that Syria’s armed opposition, particularly HTS, has expressed grave disapproval and a major sense of betrayal by Turkiye’s recent diplomatic approach with Syria.
On 2 January, HTS chief Abu Mohammed al-Julani, made a statement strongly rejecting the Russian-mediated negotiation efforts to rekindle Syrian-Turkish ties. In the statement, Julani emphasized the need to confront the rapprochement and called for a ‘united front’ among the opposition.
Today’s clashes saw HTS fighting against the Syrian army in a coordinated attack carried out alongside separate factions, signifying that this ‘united front’ may already be taking shape.