Armed jihadist groups in Syria, Ahrar Al-Sham and Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), have succeeded in imposing control over several areas in the district of Afrin in the countryside northwest of Aleppo, previously controlled by Turkish forces and their proxies, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Sunday.
The two jihadist groups took over the areas around Al-Basutah, Jindires and the villages of Al-Muhammadiyah, Al-Ghazawiyah, Qarzihil and Ain Dara, following clashes with Al-Jabha Al-Shamiyyah and Al-Sham Corps, proxies of Turkey.
The village of Qarzihil reportedly witnessed the fiercest clashes. The takeover of the areas in question took place in the early hours of Sunday after the arrival of convoys belonging to HTS and Ahrar Al-Sham.
Seven deaths, of which three were civilians and four Turkish-backed fighters, and nine wounded, including children and elderly people, were reported by SOHR.
The clashes spread to the following nine positions: Al-Ghazzawiyah, Al-Hadath camp, Olan village, Hayy Al-Nahdah camp, Rawabi camp, Sosyan town, Barathah, Ablah and Tell Battal.
Meanwhile, a large military build-up of HTS has been reported in areas under its control in the countryside west of Aleppo and near lines separating HTS-held areas from areas under the control of the Syrian troops.
Hawar News Agency (ANHA) also reported on Sunday that there were clashes between HTS and the Turkish proxy Syrian National Army (SNA) in the city of Afrin, and that HTS was engaged in efforts to secure control of neighbourhoods near the city centre.
ANHA also said in its report that the power shift in the region had been prearranged with the involvement of Turkish intelligence.
It noted that the press communication centre of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had warned previously, on 26 May, that the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT) had pulled out some of Turkey’s proxies from several villages in the region while HTS groups were deployed in Al-Basutah and Kebashin.