A local source told VOA that fierce clashes erupted on Monday in the town of Afrin and its surrounding areas between the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militant group and a Turkish-backed armed group known as the Third Legion, or the al-Shamiya Front.
The HTS is a major Islamist group that controls most of the province of Idlib in northwest Syria. Formerly known as al-Nusra Front, the group was the main affiliate of al-Qaida in Syria until 2018 when it formally severed ties with the global terror organization.
The United States has designated the HTS as a terrorist organization.
Last week, HTS fighters took control of Afrin, which had been controlled by the Third Legion and other Turkish-backed Islamist militias since 2018 after a Turkish military offensive that ousted Syrian Kurdish forces that Ankara considers terrorists.
The two sides had reached an agreement over the weekend to cease hostilities, but that quickly ended with the Monday clashes.
Rami Abdulrahman, director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told VOA, “The cease-fire agreement didn’t hold because the al-Shamiya Front thought anti-HTS protests in the area would give them momentum to attack again … and thus the fighting has resumed.”
The observatory reported that during the clashes on Monday, HTS fighters were able to take control of another village close to the nearby town of Azaz. Local news reports said the fighting killed several people on both sides.
Another source, who didn’t want to be identified for security reasons, told VOA, “The ongoing fighting has resulted in the closure of the main road between Afrin and Azaz, preventing locals who want to escape the violence from leaving their homes.”
While rights groups have accused Turkish-backed groups in Afrin of carrying out rights violations against civilians, they fear the HTS’s seizure of the town could make the situation even worse for the locals.
The Human Rights Organization in Afrin said that immediately after the HTS’s takeover of Afrin, the militant group imposed stringent restrictions on the local population, including forcing an Islamic dress code on women.
This story originated in VOA’s Kurdish Service.
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