Islamist troops mass outside
Syria Kurdish area

Reports have emerged that a number of opposition factions have deployed south of the Afrin Canton.

Ahrar al-Sham fighter. (AFP/Alice Martins)

BEIRUT – Islamist rebel groups have begun to mass troops south of the de-facto autonomous Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria near the border with Turkey.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday morning that it received information that “fighters from Islamic factions are mobilizing their fighters and hardware in the vicinity of Cindirese,” a village located on the southwestern outskirts of Afrin.


However, the monitoring NGO tracking developments in the war-torn country stressed it could not determine whether the factions were preparing for an attack on the Kurdish-controlled area, or were merely reinforcing their defensive positions.


Erbil-based ARA News, in turn, reported that a “large number” of fighters from the hardline Ahrar al-Sham Movement as well as from the more moderate Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, Faylaq al-Sham and Jaysh al-Sunna had deployed on the outskirts of Cindirese, which lies 10-kilometers north of the rebel-held border town of Atmeh.


Meanwhile, the local Kurdish Xeber 24 news website published a similar report, citing activists claiming that the aforementioned groups had deployed outside Cindirise with “heavy weapons” in preparation for an assault on the nearby villages of Der Balout, Diwan and Halima.


The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) command in Afrin announced that it was “monitoring the situation closely” and would respond in force to any attempt by rebel factions to advance in the area, according to ARA News.


The outlet—which closely follows news in rebel-held Kurdish territory—also claimed that a group of fighters from Faylaq al-Sham had infiltrated into the village of Jalmah—near Cindirese—overnight. No other sources could confirm the report.


For their part, none of the Islamist groups reportedly deploying outside the Afrin canton have issued any statement on the matter.


Rebel factions in northern Aleppo have long been at odds with Kurdish forces, but ties have especially soured since mid-February after YPG troops backed by Jaysh al-Thuwar advanced eastward from the Afrin canton to seize a swathe of opposition-held territory.


Opposition forces accused the Kurds of coordinating with the Syrian regime and Russia to push back rebel lines in northern Aleppo, while the YPG claimed it is “liberating” villages from the Nusra Front, despite the Al-Qaeda affiliate not being present in the area.


Fierce clashes have since erupted around the Kurdish-populated Sheikh al-Maksoud quarter of Aleppo City, with rebel groups heavily shelling the area. Meanwhile, the YPG and its allies have moved to assert control over the nearby Castello Highway that serves as a vital supply line for opposition factions in Syria’s second city.


NOW’s English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated the Arabic-language source material.

Ahrar al-Sham fighter. (AFP/Alice Martins)

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) command in Afrin announced that it was “monitoring the situation closely."