FSA group battles Nusra amid Russia strikes

An insurgent commander fighting against Jaysh al-Thuwar claims that Russia is conducting raids in support of the FSA coalition.

A Jaysh al-Thuwar position west of Aazaz. (Facebook/Jaysh al-Thuwar)

BEIRUT – A Free Syrian Army group affiliated with the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) has reportedly engaged in fierce fighting with the Al-Nusra Front and allied factions north of Aleppo amid Russian airstrikes in the area.


On Thursday evening, the FSA-linked rebel coalition Jaysh al-Thuwar accused Nusra and the Marea operations room—a collection of other mostly FSA-affiliated factions—of attacking it outside two villages west of Aazaz.


“Jaysh al-Thuwar’s forces responded to the centers of those aggressions. The attack shows that there are factions that claim to be revolutionary but in truth serve the enemies of the Syrian revolution,” the group said in a fiery statement.


On Friday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that fighting was still raging between the Jaysh al-Thuwar coalition on one side and Nusra and a collection of rebel brigades on the other around the villages of Al-Malikiya and Mathanat al-Faisal.


The monitoring NGO also said that “warplanes” had bombed the Mathanat al-Faisal area, but did not identify which air force conducted the strikes. However, it did report that suspected-Russian jets had hit targets around the Minnegh airbase, which is located only a few kilometers east of the area where Jaysh al-Thuwar and Nusra clashed.


Later on Friday, a commander in one of the group’s battling Jaysh al-Thuwar told a pro-opposition outlet that Russian jets had conducted strikes against the forces opposing the YPG ally.


Abu Omar told Zaman al-Wasl that he considered this to be “clear and open coordination between Jaysh al-Thuwar’s militias and the Russian invasion.”


The rebel commander also insisted that Nusra was not involved in the fighting, stressing that “all the groups which took part are FSA factions that have gathered under the Marea operations room banner.”


However, a Syrian Kurdish-affiliated news agency echoed Jaysh al-Thuwar and SOHR’s reports that Nusra was in involved in the fighting.


ANHA news agency reported Friday that Jaysh al-Thuwar had “advanced in the area around the village of Al-Malikiya, which saw clashes yesterday between Jaysh al-Thuwar and the mercenaries of Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.”


Mounting tension


The new fighting in the northern Aleppo comes amid mounting tension in the region after Jaysh al-Thuwar announced their readiness on November 16 to fight for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which has been active recently in the northwest of the country.


The SDF is dominated by the 30,000-strong YPG, which has no presence in northwest Syria outside of the Afrin Canton, a Kurdish majority enclave that has seen intermittent clashes along its borders between the PYD’s military wing and Islamist forces, including the Al-Nusra Front.


The US-supported SDF, which was formed on October 11, has so far only had an operation presence in northeastern Syria, where it has battled ISIS in conjunction with US airstrikes.


A Jaysh al-Thuwar spokesperson claimed that Nusra vociferously opposed it joining the SDF, and was blocking the coalition’s efforts to fight ISIS in northern Aleppo.


“Nusra and Ahrar a-Sham have accused us of apostasy, the same claim they make against all the SDF factions,” Khaled al-Zino told Syria Direct.


According to Jaysh al-Thuwar, Nusra gave the group a 48-hours to withdraw from the western Aazaz countryside on November 22. The following day, reports emerged that small clashes had erupted between the two. 


Kurds deny involvement


As fighting picked up between Nusra and Jaysh al-Thuwar, the latter’s Kurdish allies in the SDF denied any involvement in the brewing conflict.


The YPG issued a statement condemning “the false rumors that were issued in connection with the [clashes] in the Aazaz area between Jaysh al-Thuwar and other factions.”


“We reiterate once again that we in the YPG have no ties to the ongoing problems in the countryside of Aazaz.”


Their statement came after rumors swirled across social media that the YPG was either directly or indirectly involved in the fighting.


A pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper also touched on the issue, publishing a speculative report that interpreted Russian airstrikes in northern Aleppo as an attempt to “win the favor” of the YPG and its ally Jaysh al-Thuwar.


“Russian planes began targeting positions belonging to the pro-Ankara Shamiyya Front yesterday in the village of Deir Jamal, [which is situated in a] countryside [area near] the [Kurdish] Afrin [Canton],” Al-Akhbar reported.


The author of the article, Elie Hanna, interpreted this as “a message” from Russia to Syrian Kurds “intended to win their favor” and “a preparatory step towards Russian coordination with them.”


The Al-Akhbar journalist also said that Jaysh al-Thuwar’s offensive west of Aazaz “may be a precursor to expansion by the SDF,” in a bid to connect the Kurdish-cantons of Afrin and Kobane. 

A Jaysh al-Thuwar position west of Aazaz. (Facebook/Jaysh al-Thuwar)

A pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper also touched on the issue, publishing a speculative report Friday that interpreted Russian airstrikes in northern Aleppo as an attempt to “win the favor” of the YPG and its allies Jaysh al-Thuwar.

  • WVD

    They are not a FSA group, they are local Kurds.

    November 28, 2015

  • dutchnational

    Even local kurds can be organised as FSA units.

    November 28, 2015