As Syria observers focus on the battle for Aleppo, it is important to note the role being played by rebel groups in Idlib province in this important battle.
Restricting Supply Lines
The roads from the southern cities of Homs and Damascus, as well as those from the Alewite areas on coast, run through Idlib. Rebel groups in Idlib have focused their efforts on these roads, repeatedly ambushing regime convoys. Although convoys regularly reach Aleppo city, many have taken significant casualties on the Idlib highways. The main choke points are Maarat al-Numan, where Shuhada Jebel al-Zawiyah has recently deployed from their base in Jebel al-Zawiyah, and the stretch of highway between Ariha and Saraqeb, where Suqour al-Sham and Ahrar al-Shamal Idlib have carried out ambushes.
As the rebels have consolidated their strongholds in northern Idlib and Jebel al-Zawiyah, they have felt less constrained by the need to defend their home villages, traveling farther afield to carry out attacks. This trend has increased over the last two weeks as the regime has pulled forces out of garrisons in Idlib province to join the fight in Aleppo. This has allowed rebel leaders in Idlib to send forces to defend Aleppo city. Ahmed Abu Issa, leader of Suqour al-Sham told a reporter two weeks ago that he dispatched fighters to Aleppo city and the Ahrar al-Shamal Idlib Facebook page said that Mahmud Khabir lead a group fighters east to Aleppo on August 1.
Rebels in Aleppo and Idlib have an ongoing relationship based on fighting in towns such as Atareb located on the border between the two provinces. Carrying out ambushes in support of fighters deep in a neighboring province, and sending fighters 60 kilometers to fight in another group’s territory are, however, new developments. These are examples of a rapidly maturing insurgency as well as increased cooperation across rebel commands.