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SYRIA: Infighting Continues Between Militants in Aleppo’s Eastern Countryside


Ahrar Al Sharqiya militant testing out US supplied TOW Missile unit in Aleppo countryside (Image: SMMS)

Khaled Iskef
21st Century Wire

The conflict in the eastern countryside of Aleppo has increased among the militants of the Turkish-backed factions, after the violent battles taking place in Al-Bab area – controlled by those factions. Here, the infighting is taking place between militant extremist groups “Ahrar Al Sharqiya” and “The 20th Squad” (aka “20th Division”). 

According to local sources from Al-Bab area in eastern Aleppo countryside, tension between the two factions actually began after the car bomb explosion that took place last week in Suluk city in the Raqqa countryside, which killed 3 Turkish soldiers and 7 members of Ahrar Al-Sharqiya, including its leader Thabit Al-Huwaish, nicknamed “Abu Abdul Rahman Al-Amani”. This made the leaders of Ahrar Al-Shaqiya (former al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham members) accuse 20th Squad members of being involved in carrying out the explosion by facilitating the passage of the vehicle through their checkpoints.

The leadership of The 20 Squad denied these accusations and confirmed that the members of its checkpoint stopped the car, that was accompanied by members of Ahrar al-Sharqiya, and decided to accompany it to a headquarter of Ahrar al-Sharqiya in the town of Suluk, but they were surprised by its explosion inside the town, which led to accusations against Al-Sharqiya militants of carrying out the bombing.

Following these accusations, violent fighting took place between the two parties, with fighting centered around Al-Bab city, the largest city in Aleppo eastern countryside. A large number of deaths and injuries occurred within the ranks of both Al-Sharqiya and The 20th Squad during these battles. The two sides also rushed to implement incursions and raids on each others’ headquarters, along with stealing munitions and ammunition stock in warehouse.

The leader of The 20th Squad, Abu Barzan Al-Sultani, published an audio recording in which he called on the members of his squad to exercise restraint, hand over the headquarters to Ahrar al-Sharqiya, and not to be drawn into a military confrontation that might take their lives, while the security alert of Ahrar al-Sharqiya continued in Al-Bab, Jarablus, Marea, and Afrin in the Aleppo countryside – which are still controlled by the Turkish forces and their loyal factions. All these areas are suffering security chaos as a result of successive bombings and military confrontations between the rival factions due to the disagreements on the areas of influence and looting civilian properties.

The leaked information received through a private source indicates that the leader of Ahrar al-Sharqiya movement, “Hatim Abu Shaqra”, had planned earlier with the leader of Al-Sharqiya Army, Hussein Hammadi, to attack The 20th Squad and control its deployment areas near Ras Al-Ain (aka Kobani) northwest of Hasaka, which is estimated as hundreds of hectares of fertile agricultural land. Leader Abu Shaqra took advantage of the explosion incident to accuse and attack The 20th Squad, instructing his members to arrest the members of the Squad in various areas of rural Aleppo. The source stated that dozens of the Squad members were arrested by members of Ahrar al-Sharqiya and taken to an unknown destination with refusal to release them.

The source also revealed information about an agreement between Abu Shaqra and the Minister of Defense of the self-declared government-in-exile in Turkey, headed by Salim Idris, former Free Syrian Army leader, to dissolve The 20th Squad under pretense that Turkey is aware of what’s going on and is ignoring it, as they are merely mercenaries and Turks do not care about their disagreements.

It is noteworthy that the areas controlled by the Turkish-backed factions in the countryside of Aleppo and Raqqa are still witnessing conflicts and mass infighting among themselves, periodically, mostly over the distribution of stolen goods, settling of internal scores, and blood feuds among the factions’ leaders.

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Author Khaled Iskef is an independent researcher and journalist based in Syria. His work has appeared on a number of international media outlets including Al Mayadeen TV. See his archive here.

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