Since our last Syria map update, rebel forces have continued to move southeast from Aleppo (where fighting still rages), last month taking over the Tabqa hydroelectric dam. It was soon reported that they controlled the neighboring town of Thawrah as well. ("Tabqa" and "Thawrah" are actually two names for the same place; the latter is a more recent official name which means "revolution" in Arabic).
This week, the rebels reached Raqqah, apparently seizing nearly the whole city and capturing the provincial governor. This gives them almost complete control of an entire province, and is the first time they have held a provincial capital since losing Idlib city a year ago. It also effectively connects the two fronts of the war, with rebels now mostly in control of a stretch running all the way from Aleppo in the northwest to Al Bukamal in the southeast.
Country Name: |
• Syria (English)
• Sūriyya/Sūryā (Arabic)
• Syrian Arab Republic (English)
• al-Jumhūriyyah al-‘Arabīyah as-Sūriyyah (Arabic)
Even as rebel forces moved east from Aleppo, another group struck out northwest from the Deir ez-Zor area, taking over the town of Shadadeh in Al-Hasakah province. This northeasternmost province is a major oil-producing region, but further conquests may come up against resistance from Kurdish militias, whose people form a large percentage of the population.
Indeed, Kurdish groups have continued to consolidate their power in Syria's far northeast, seizing the town of Ramilan this week, and reportedly occupying most of Al-Hasakah's oil fields. The Kurdish militias are not officially aligned with either side in the war, usually claiming to oppose the government, but keeping a wary eye on the rebels at the same time.
Last weekend, another battle was going on quite close to Ramilan. In what became a small international incident, rebels fought government forces for control of the northeastern border crossing to Iraq. According to some reports, the rebels gained control of Yaarabiya, the town on the Syrian side of the border; the crossing is also known as Rabia, after the town on the Iraqi side.
Fighting in Syria's West
Also last month, rebels moved into Al-Safira, a major town just outside of Aleppo. They were soon reported to control of the streets, though fighting was ongoing against government forces just outside the town. In December, just after our last map update, there was also a major campaign near Hama, in which rebels took control of various small towns and villages north of the city, but lost several of them again within a few weeks.
The Al-Nusra Front
It is worth mentioning that rebel victories in Syria's civil war have increasingly been attributed not to the Free Syrian Army, but to its ally the Al-Nusra Front (also known as Jabhat al-Nusra). This militant group, known for a long list of bombings as well as battles, is made up of religious fundamentalists who envision an Islamic state to replace the current Syrian government. The Al-Nusra Front has played a leading role in Al-Safira and Shadadeh in particular, succeeding partly through the skills of well-trained foreign fighters from other Arab countries like Libya, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. It is suspected of ties with Al Qaeda.
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Graphic of Syrian flag is in the public domain (source).