Early on December 18, the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) launched an attack on the town of Ain Issa in the northern countryside of Raqqa.
The attack came after weeks of speculations. Many reports spoke about a Turkish plan to push the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) out of Ain Issa and many other towns on the M4 highway.
SNA militants advanced towards the towns of Mushayrifah and Jableh, which are a no man’s land. Turkish artillery and combat drones provided the militants with fire support.
While the Hawar News Agency reported heavy clashes near Ain Issa, Major Youssef Hammoud, a spokesman for the SNA, said the attack was a “limited military operation.”
SNA sources said the attack was a “response” to an infiltration attempt by SDF fighters, claiming that Turkish-backed militants have withdrawn from Mushayrifah and Jableh.
Ain Issa hosts a center of the Russian Military Police. Several Syrian Arab Army (SAA) positions are located around the town. Nevertheless, Russian and Syrian forces are not taking part in the ongoing clashes.
Earlier this month, the SDF and Damascus reached a new agreement that allowed the SAA to establish three new “observation posts” around Ain Issa. The agreement came after pressure from Russia, which warned the SDF of a near Turkish attack on the town.
Co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council [the policies wing of the SDF], Amina Omar, alleged on December 18 that Russia is pressuring the SDF into handing Ain Issa over to Damascus.
The ongoing Turkish attack on Ain Issa appears to be limited. The clashes may end in the upcoming few hours. However, tensions around the town will remain as long as the SDF is not willing to make any concessions to Turkey, or Russia.
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