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Fighting escalated between rival armed groups in north east, Russia-Turkey tensions persisted in Idlib, and Islamic State (ISIS) continued deadly assaults. Clashes erupted between Turkish-backed groups and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in and around city of Ain Issa: Turkish-backed forces 6 Dec carried out artillery attacks on Ain Issa and nearby villages, wounding at least nine civilians, including two children. Although Russia and SDF 8 Dec reached agreement over redeployment of military units and establishment of three Russian observation posts near Ain Issa, Turkish-backed forces 11, 13 and 14 Dec launched ground assaults targeting SDF positions, and mutual shelling continued. Russia 27 Dec confirmed deployment of additional military units to Ain Issa. Elsewhere in north east, protesters 8, 9 and 15 Dec took to streets in SDF-controlled parts of Deir Ez-Zor city to protest against deteriorating living conditions and high cost of fuel. In Idlib in north west, Turkey withdrew from observation points in regime-controlled territory, while setting up new ones in rebel-controlled parts of province and further strengthening position in Jabal al-Zawiya area near M4 highway throughout month. Militants 29 Dec reportedly wounded three Russian soldiers on patrol near Trumba in Idlib province. Meanwhile, ISIS 2-13 Dec launched series of attacks in Deir Ez-Zor, Homs and Hama cities, killing at least 29 pro-regime fighters and injuring 25 others; in retaliation, Russian forces in coordination with regime forces mid-Dec launched over 170 airstrikes in central desert, reportedly killing 37 ISIS members. ISIS 30 Dec claimed responsibility for attack that killed nearly 40 regime soldiers in eastern Syria. Russian forces 11 Dec conducted joint patrol in Golan Heights, Quneitra province, and established five observation points along disengagement line with Israel. U.S. govt 7 Dec designated rebel group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham among “Entities of Particular Concern”; 22 Dec sanctioned Central Bank, close aide to President Assad and several of first lady’s UK-based relatives. Alleged Israeli airstrikes 4 Dec hit Iran-linked sites in Raqqa city and 6 Dec killed three pro-Iran militants in Deir Ez-Zor province. Govt 24 Dec reported Israeli missiles over western Hama countryside.
Tensions continued to mount in Idlib, Islamic State (ISIS) launched series of attacks and clashes broke out between govt forces and local fighters. In north west, amid rising tensions with Russia following last month’s military escalation, Turkish troops 8-10 Nov withdrew from Marhatat post on Aleppo-Damascus road and Anadan post in Aleppo governorate, citing Russian harassment of resupply convoys and regime-led protests outside posts; Turkish military 2-21 Nov fortified position in Jabal al-Zawiya mountain near M4 highway. Regime forces 8-9 Nov shelled Turkish positions in Jabal al-Zawiya and Saraqib city. Regime shelling of rebel-held areas also persisted, 4 Nov killing at least seven in marked escalation; rebels same day killed three in apparent retaliation. In sign of continuing crackdown on rival groups, rebel group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham 3 Nov stormed Ahrar al-Sham headquarters in Jabal al-Zawiya, Idlib governorate (northwest). Meanwhile, ISIS attacks on Turkish-controlled Aleppo governorate increased: ISIS 4 Nov claimed IED explosion that killed Turkish-backed group Faylaq al-Sham soldier in al-Bab city; ISIS 7 Nov detonated IED in al-Bab, killing three policemen. In north east, in Hasakah province, ISIS 1 Nov claimed responsibility for killing of Kurdish Internal Security Forces in Markadeh village. In Deir Ez-Zor province, ISIS-affiliated cells 9 Nov killed four near al-Mayadin; roadside IED 20 Nov killed five fighters from Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Clashes between regime forces and ISIS in central desert 26-28 Nov killed at least 29 regime soldiers and 30 militants. Meanwhile, also in north west, Kurdish-led SDF 23-24 Nov clashed with Turkish-backed forces in Ain Issa, north of Raqqa city, killing dozens of Turkey-backed fighters, and local militias 8 Nov took control of al-Masakin checkpoint in north-western Daraa, allegedly killing five regime soldiers. In south east, amid govt attempts to improve its control, govt forces clashed with local fighters; authorities 8 Nov arrested a dozen people during clashes in Daraa city. Damascus 11-12 Nov hosted conference on refugee return; Russia pledged $1bn for reconstruction. Alleged Israeli airstrikes 15-22 Nov and shelling 25 Nov killed at least 27 pro-Iran militants.
In Idlib, rebel group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) clashed with rival jihadist groups and Russia resumed airstrikes, while regime forces clashed with Islamic State (ISIS) in east and assassinations targeted opposition leaders in south west. In north west, jihadist rebel group HTS 5-19 Oct continued to launch crackdown on rival groups: HTS arrested at least 30 al-Qaeda-backed Hurras al-Din members in Idlib province, including senior commander; HTS security operation 10 Oct killed ten ISIS fighters in Talada area; HTS 12 Oct killed 13 ISIS members in western Aleppo countryside, and ISIS same day killed two HTS militants in al-Mastouma, Idlib province. Meanwhile, Russia 17 Oct renewed airstrikes on jihadist positions in Idlib after month-long hiatus, escalating to highest daily strike tally since March ceasefire on 20 Oct; suspected Russian air raids 26 Oct targeted military training camp of Turkey-backed Failaq al-Sham, reportedly killing dozens. Simultaneous rebel attacks in Idlib, Hama, Latakia, and Aleppo 27 Oct reportedly killed 15 regime soldiers. U.S. drone attack on Idlib’s Salqin city 22 Oct killed 23, including 17 militants allegedly linked with Hurras al-Din. Large number of wildfires 9 Oct broke out in forests along Syrian coast, killing at least three and displacing as many as 25,000. In Aleppo governorate, two explosions in Turkish-controlled al-Bab 4-6 Oct killed at least 16. In north east, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council 5 Oct issued blanket amnesty to all 25,000 Syrians in al-Hol camp, which holds displaced people and families of suspected ISIS fighters. In Deir Ez-Zor and Hama countryside, fierce battles persisted between regime forces and ISIS fighters; heaviest day of fighting 17 Oct in Deir Ez-Zor saw 37 killed on both sides. In south west, wave of assassinations continued against former opposition leaders who reconciled with regime: unidentified gunmen 1-14 Oct killed at least five former opposition leaders; notably, death of commander Adham al-Karad 14 Oct constituted highest-profile killing since regime takeover of Daraa and is set to dent efforts by former opposition leaders to consolidate power in area. In first attack since mid-Sept, alleged Israeli strikes 21 Oct hit Iran-linked targets in al-Quneitra province.