Note that all of the M5 highway is included with the exception of Ayn Issa (which technically is outside the zone and is occupied by Syrian government troops). Tell Tamer, another town with government troops inside, also falls just outside the zone.
Important sites located inside the zone include Sharaqraq, Qantari, and Turkmen Ali Beyli. The “greater” safe zone, which represents the full Turkish claim of 32 kilometers south of the entire border from Jarabulus to Iraq, also includes the Qara Qawzak bridge, which would mean people in the Autonomous Administration would have only one route crossing the Euphrates River (the Tishrin Dam bridge) to travel to and from Manbij. Even under the “greater” safe zone, however, the Autonomous Administration would maintain control over the Arab towns near the line such as Sarrin, Jurniyah, Mahmudli, Khunayz, al-Hishah, Tall Siman, and Qaltah.
The Sochi Memorandum also states that “All YPG elements and their weapons will be removed from Manbij and Tal Rifat.” This would significantly alter the balance of power in Aleppo province, forcing residents in the area to choose between living in Syrian government territory or Turkish-backed rebel control.
Syrian War Daily can confirm that Al-Sanadid Forces (Quwwāt as-Ṣanādid), an Arab militia of the Shammar tribe allied with the Syrian Democratic Forces, has not yet decided to deploy any forces to assist their Kurdish partners in fighting the Turkish invasion of Rojava. Although Al-Sanadid is at a heightened state of alert, the group has troops standing by at its traditional strongholds al-Yaarubiyah and Tell Hamis.
The Turkish ground forces have not yet crossed the border en masse, although special forces have tried and failed to infiltrate SDF positions along the border (at Bir Ashiq for example). Meanwhile, Turkish Air Force planes have bombed Tal Abyad, Suluk, Qantari, Bir Ashiq, and Hammam Turkman. Pro-SDF forces are also clashing with Turkish-backed militias west of al-Bab in one of the last SDF positions in northwest Aleppo.
The Syrian Army has now taken all of northern Hama Governorate from rebel forces, creating a new frontline inside the southern part of Idlib Governorate 25 km shorter than before (and freeing up many front line guard troops for future operations). The government took from rebel forces the strategic city of Khan Shaykhun, as well as the devastated towns of Latamina, Kafr Zita, and Morek. The Turkish Army observation post in northern Hama has still not been evacuated, and is now surrounded by Syrian Army troops and tanks at close range (as short as 100 meters). The moderate rebel group Jaish al-Izza has lost its territory due to this battle. This leaves jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in control of the front line with government forces, with a few exceptions in the southeast of Idlib (such as the Free Syrian Army Mountain Hawks Brigade and the National Liberation Front).
L’armée syrienne a pris deux postes de contrôle autour la ville de Khan Cheikhoun le soir 2019-08-18. Ensuite, peu après minuit, les troupes armées avaient lancé un assaut au nord de Khan Cheikhoun et ont pris une partie de la ville.
Le nombre du combattants morts des dernières 24 heures approchant quatre vingt-dix. L’ensemble de la région tenue par les rebelles au nord de Khan Cheikhoun est sous l’assaut écrasant du gouvernement, soutenu par des frappes aériennes sans arrêt de chasseurs à réaction et d’hélicoptères. Presque une mille civils syriennes sont morts au cours des quatre derniers mois, presque tous était dans les zones contrôlées par les rebelles.
The Syrian Army captured two checkpoints from jihadist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in the evening of 2019-08-18. Just after midnight, Army troops launched an attack from the northern direction (an area poorly fortified by rebels) and entered Khan Shaykhun city. Several city blocks and neighborhoods were cleared, as rebel forces engaged in a fighting retreat. The city is now almost devoid of civilians after over ten thousand people fled over the past month northward to refugee camps and rebel-held cities like Idlib. Tahrir al-Sham was also unable to reverse yesterday’s loss of tactically important high ground northwest of Khan Shaykhun despite multiple car bombings, showing the group is now finding it difficult to effectively counter the Syrian Army in prolonged battles.
So far, dozens of fighters have died on both sides, with the death toll of the past 24 hours approaching 100. The entire rebel-held area north of Khan Shaykhun is under overwhelming government assault backed by nonstop Syrian and Russian airstrikes from jet fighters and helicopters. Almost 1,000 civilians have died in the past 4 months, almost all of them in rebel-held areas.
Over the past two days the Syrian Army, backed by both targeted and indiscriminate bombing, advanced deep into rebel territory in Idlib province, attacking far into an area the rebels never thought to defend.
After capturing the town of Madaya two days ago (while Russian airstrikes killed 2 children, 12 other civilians and wounded 30 on a refugee camp near the town of Hass), the Syrian Army briefly paused on August 17 to fortify their gains.
The day afterwards (today), bombs from the Syrian Air Force tumbled down by the dozen on nearby towns like Kafr Sajanah, Maarat Hurmah, and Hish, killing both militants and civilians.
These combined effect of these airstrikes has so far caused several thousand people to flee from southern Idlib to the north for safety, although they are still at risk of being targeted as August 16th’s totally indiscriminate strikes as far north as Ariha have shown.
The most recent Syrian Army advance in the unusual and risky direction east of Rakaya and northwest of Khan Shaykhun has caught the rebels by surprise and scared Turkey, which so far refused to withdraw its troops from itd observation post at the frontline town of Morek (a location at high risk of being besieged by government advances). It remains to be seen if this new bold tactical gambit will pay off by collapsing all rebel defenses in Hama due to confusion, or if the rebels will rally and beat back the Army in a counteroffensive.
If one thing is for sure, the next few days will be some of the deadliest in the civil war since the battle to defeat ISIS in eastern Syria five months ago.
Overnight, the Syrian Army’s Tiger Forces captured the small villages of Hasariyah and Abu Raidi Sharqiyah, putting them within firing distance of the towns of Zakah and Arbain. At noon, Arbain was captured by the Syrian Army. These towns are stronghold of the FSA-aligned Jaish al-Izza (Army of Glory) group. The group peacefully withdrew from Hasariyah overnight, leaving Army troops to seize the area after sunrise.
This morning’s advance came after yesterday’s advance into what used to be longstanding rebel territory. It is unlikely that government forces will stop after gaining control of Arbain. They are seeking to build a bigger buffer zone along the road between the Christian towns of Maharda and Suqaylabiya. The road was previously cut by the mid-June rebel offensive, making it free travel and access difficult for the Syrian military and civilians alike.