In late July, Jamal Maaruf, leader of the Shuhada Jebel al-Zawiyah Battalion formed the Shuhada Suriyah Battalions, presaging a growth in capabilities and aggressiveness. Before mid-July, Shuhada Jebel al-Zawiyah’s area of operations was restricted to Jebel al-Zawiyah and the M5 highway seven kilometers to the east, it has since expanded 29 kilometers further east to the border of Aleppo province and north to Saraqeb.
The expansion began late July when the group moved south of Jebel al-Zawiyah to capture regime positions in Maarat al-Numan and Kafr Nabl in quick succession. Shuhada Suriyah then participated in the battle for Ariha in late August. A few days later, they traveled 45 kilometers from their base in Deir Sunbil to carry out a raid on the Abu Dhuhur air base. There were many impressive aspects of this operation, including the seizure of a section of the air base as well as the downing two MiGs, but their ability to sustain the fight for two weeks far from their base of operations was unprecedented.
After pulling back from Abu Dhuhur, Shuhada Suriyah did not simply rest and regroup. Instead, it attacked regime positions in the town of Saraqeb, strategically located where the M4 and M5 highways meet, and maintained the fight for three days.
Over the past two months, Shuhada Suriyah’s pace of operations, extended area of operations, and strategic choice of targets has been impressive, making it a key player in northern Syria. The funding that Shuhada Suriyah is reportedly receiving from Gulf states probably accounts for part of this rapid expansion in capabilities.