Clashes across Syria show no sign of abating. Although the attention of the world remains focused in northern Aleppo where Turkey has launched its Operation Olive Branch against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, a number of other theatres continue to witness heavy fight as well. Deir ez-Zour is one such theatre. Although the province, which was the focal point of fighting over the latter half of 2017, has calmed down somewhat, it continues to witness sporadic clashes between ISIS and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The clashes in Deir ez-Zour are concentrated along the southeastern corner of the province, near the Iraqi Border. Although the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has secured the southern banks of the Euphrates, the northern banks remain contested on account of large numbers of ISIS militants who retreated to the region. The SDF has so far launched launched numerous offensives against the ISIS militants in Gharanij and Sha’fa, supported by the International Coalition. However, militant counterattacks spearheaded by suicide bombers in armoured cars have stymied progress. Still, a number of high-profile ISIS militants including the group’s “popstar”, Denis Cuspert, was killed during these clashes.
In Idlib, heavy fighting continues between the rebels and the SAA which, over the weekend, achieved one of the main goals of its offensive into the province, capturing the Abu al-Duhur Airbase. These gains have come alongside heavy airstrikes across the eastern, southern and western parts of Idlib, hitting towns such as Ma’arat Nu’man, Kassariya, Khirbet al-Jawz and al-Ghadfa. In conjunction with the displacement caused from the rapid SAA gains and heavy fighting, the airstrikes have resulted in a veritable humanitarian catastrophe.
Sporadic clashes also take place in a number of other, more distant theatres. In the outskirts of Aleppo City, government forces and rebels continue to exchange fire near the Mallah Farms. The area saw heavy fighting during the Battle of Aleppo and remains a hotspot. In Daraa, the local Free Syrian Army factions have shelled the ISIS-affiliated Jaish Khalid Ibn al-Walid. Although the FSA launched numerous offensives to dislodge the group, so far these efforts failed. Sporadic shelling between the SAA and the FSA also takes place in Daraa and Quneitra.
January 2018 has proven to be one of the bloodiest months in Syria. Although the conflict in the country was viewed as nearing its end-point, there is no telling when peace will actually emerge in the embattled country.