DAMASCUS (Middle East Eye) – The militant group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) began to partially withdraw its forces from Afrin on Saturday after the Turkish military stepped in and de-escalated infighting in northwest Syria.
Turkish security sources told Middle East Eye that the Turkish-backed civilian and political administration in Afrin has been functioning as normal despite some militant groups in the so-called Syrian National Army (SNA) coalition fighting with HTS in the region.
HTS, the former Al-Qaeda branch that controls most of Idlib province to Afrin’s west, on Thursday pushed convoys of militants into Afrin and the surrounding countryside.
The militant group, designated as a terror group by Turkey, is by far the strongest remaining militant faction.
This week, it allied with some militant groups in the Turkish-backed SNA, such as the Hamzah Division, Sultan Suleiman Shah Division and Ahrar al-Sham, and launched an offensive against the SNA’s Third Legion, which includes prominent militant groups including the Levant Front and the so-called Jaish al-Islam.
The fighting was sparked by the assassination of a prominent Syrian activist in the Aleppo province city of al-Bab. The murder, blamed on Hamzah Division fighters, cracked open festering disagreements between militant groups.
The Turkish security sources said the situation was calm and stable in the center and south of Afrin city. The sources denied that Turkey had taken sides with HTS.
One Turkish source also denied that it has conducted a three-way meeting between the warring parties.
Turkish army units patrolled in the area on Friday with armored vehicles, decreasing the tension.