Free Syrian Army launches security campaign in Afrin city and threatens other cities in Northern Aleppo
Turkey - SMART
The National Army of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched a security campaign against the al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction in the city of Afrin, 43 kilometers north of Aleppo, Northern Syria. The National Army threatened similar campaigns against the factions that allegedly hide their wanted members in the Turkish-backed FSA-controlled areas known in media as the Euphrates Shield and the Olive Branch operation areas.
Hisham Skayf, the deputy head of the political office for the FSA's al-Salam Brigade, told SMART that the campaign by the National Army and Military Police aims to capture outlaw gangs "by request from the military justice department," adding that the campaign "is not something to worry about, as it is in favor of the people in the area."
Private sources told SMART that in 24 hours, negotiations between Abu Khawlah, the commander of al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction, along with another commander called Abu Malek, and the commander of the National Army's 20th Division, Abu Barzan, who is a former al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction leader in the Qalamoun area in Rif Dimashq, led to a ceasefire agreement between the two parties.
The agreement called for the al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction to surrender its fighters and weapons to the al-Sham Legion, which will prosecute those who are wanted by the military court and free the rest.
SMART obtained a copy of a leaked voice recording where Abu Khawlah confirms that he will surrender to the al-Sham Legion.
However, Abu Khawlah failed his guarantors and fled to an unknown place in the Idlib governorate, according to a private source.
A private source said that the other commander, Abu Malek, also fled the area to an unknown location, assuming that he reached Idlib as well. The al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction fighters who are wanted by the FSA military court also fled the area while National Army members prepared vehicles to transport them to the court.
Families of al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction fighters flee to Jindayris
Abu Khawlah did not escape before he made sure that the families of the al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction members had fled from Afrin to the Jindayris area.
A private source told SMART that about 150 families fled at dawn from the al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction's headquarters to the Jindayris area, carrying their personal belongings only, while the Sultan Murad Division seized the headquarters.
The source said that the ceasefire agreement and the evacuation of the families occurred due to an initiative by the Arab tribes in the area and activists from the League of Independent Kurds in Afrin.
Casualties during the campaign
During the campaign, more than 16 fighters were killed, six of them from the al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction and ten from the National Army. Fifteen National Army members were injured.
Clashes between the two parties injured six civilians, one of whom is in critical condition, while a motorcycle explosion injured seven others, who were transported to the Afrin City Hospital.
National Army pledges to return goods looted by its members:
During the campaign that the FSA's National Army launched against corruption, National Army members stormed shops and looted their goods.
A private source told SMART that National Army fighters looted shops and stole cigarettes and food supplies in the Villa and al-Mahmoudiyah streets. The members also stole about 100 olive oil cans from two olive oil shops in the area. Activists denied that the National Army members attempted to loot homes.
The military spokesman for the National Army, Youssef Mahmoud, said that small groups were responsible for the thefts, and the National Army's 2nd Legion arrested 11 of them, adding that an investigation will be opened, the thieves will be punished, and all the stolen goods will be returned.
National Army threatens to continue security campaign in Northern Aleppo and factions respond
The National Army said that its campaign against corruption in Afrin would continue in the areas of the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations.
Major Youssef Hammoud told SMART that the campaign aims to "uproot corrupt groups" that did not commit to surrendering their wanted members to the military court after civilians complained against them.
The local council of the city of Jarabulus (100 kilometers northeast of Aleppo) and FSA factions agreed to surrender members wanted for military prosecution to avoid a similar campaign.
In a meeting attended by the head of the Jarabulus local council, the Jarabulus chief of police, and representatives of the city's military factions, the attendees decided that the latter will surrender the wanted members to the military police, without military action.
The meeting aimed to avoid a military campaign in the highly populated city, which hosts several camps for internally displaced people.
The head of the Jarabulus local council, the chief of the city's military police, and representatives of the al-Shamal Brigade, 9th Division, Ahrar Jarabulus 3rd Brigade, 3rd Legion, Hamza Division, Sultan Murad Division, al-Sham Legion, and al-Ahfad Army factions, along with representatives of the people of Jarabulus and the displaced people from Eastern Jarabulus, signed the meeting log.
Who is the al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction?
The Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction was established after its commanders, Abu Khawla and Abu Malek, were suspended from the Ahrar al-Sharqiyah Gathering. Abu Khawla, who was the commander of the gathering's Hamza Division, and Abu Malek, who was the commander of the gathering's al-Muntasir Billah Battalion, were expelled from the gathering for their violations, negligence, and failure to follow orders during the Afrin battle against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The faction has been attracting disgruntled members with a bad reputation and reached about 400 fighters. The al-Sharqiyah Martyrs Faction refused to join the FSA's National Army, according to a private source.
On Jan. 20, 2018, the Turkish Army and several FSA factions launched a military operation in the Afrin area called the Olive Branch Operation, gaining total control of the city of Afrin in March 2018.