A series of renewed attacks by the Islamic State group against Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra; the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda) in northwest Syria has seen forces of the self-declared caliphate make major gains up the length of a key highway that runs between the cities of Hama to Aleppo, Al-Masdar News reports.
After nearly two weeks of inactivity, IS militants operating in Hama province’s northern countryside burst forward from their positions several days ago capturing over a dozen villages and towns from Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham in rapid succession.
During the process, the small IS bastion in the region has also expanded control over a major highway that runs from Hama to Aleppo via Tal ad-Daman adding a degree of strategic value to its latest conquests.
Furthermore, not only has IS been gaining ground against Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham, but it has also been inflicting horrific losses against the rival jihadist organization. A surprise raiding operation three days ago saw Islamic State militants kill nearly three dozen Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham fighters.
Although sharing a virtually identical ideology to Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham, the Islamic State’s presence in and around has been bitterly contested for years now.
Even prior to IS establishing a proper military toe-hold in rebel-held northwest Syria around two months ago, Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham launched constant crackdowns to weed out and exterminate the Islamic State sleeper agents operating throughout the region.