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On July 14th and 15th, Syrian Army artillery units and warplanes of the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted extensive strikes on positions of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Turkistan Islamic Party and other radical groups in northern Lattakia and southern Idlib. The main strikes hit fortified positions, weapon depots and gatherings of fighters and equipment near Kbana, Sifouhn, al-Muzarra, Ain al-Aruz, Kansafra, Kafr Uwayd, Mawzrah and Humaymat. According to pro-government sources, over a dozen militants were killed and injured, and 2 weapon depots were destroyed.
These strikes came in response to a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack on a joint Turkish-Russian patrol on the M4 highway in southern Idlib on July 14. The explosion hit the patrol near Ariha. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, 3 Russian soldiers and some Turkish troops were injured. The Turkish Defense Ministry added that nobody was killed, but 2 vehicles of the convoy were damaged. A photo of the damaged BTR-82A is also circulating online.
A previously unknown group, Kataib Hattab ash-Shishani, claimed responsibility for the attack saying that the suicide bomber was one of theirs. Nonetheless, there is no such group active in Idlib. Most likely, this is a fake brand used to draw attention away from the real attackers. The main suspect would be the coalition of al-Qaeda-linked groups Fa Ithbatu, which recently lost a conflict for money and power to its elder brother Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which used to be the official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria. The Fa Ithbatu leadership sees the current ceasefire in Idlib as a threat to its interests because Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is using it to solidify its control over the few Idlib areas where its influence is still limited. The new round of clashes between the Syrian Army and Turkish-led forces in Idlib is the only thing that can help it to keep its independence and its access to resources for a significant period of time.
The Turkish military reacted to the situation by sending additional troops and equipment, including trucks with concrete blocks, to Idlib city. Instead of fighting terrorists, Ankara seems to be planning to create more fortifications to protect them from a possible offensive by the Syrian Army or its allies.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Army detained 3 members of the US-backed militant group Maghawir al-Thawra near Palmyra. The militants were tasked with collecting data about Russian, Iranian and Syrian military targets in central Syria. Earlier, Russia warned that the US-led coalition is training groups of militants in al-Tanf to conduct sabotage operations against civilian and military infrastructure in the government-controlled part of Syria.