QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – Residents of the two Shia towns of Nubl and al-Zahraa in the northern countryside of Aleppo Governorate fear any potential Turkish invasion against the area despite the deployment of Syrian government forces and their allied militias.
Nubl and al-Zahraa are 25-30 km to the north of the city of Aleppo with a population of about 70,000 people. They are located on the highway linking the city of Aleppo with both Azaz and Afrin which are controlled by Turkey and Turkish-backed armed opposition factions, also known as Syrian National Army (SNA).
The people of the two towns are Shia Islam which is the second largest branch of Islam, after Sunni Islam, and they believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib is Prophet Muhammad’s successor.
Those who run the towns closely follow the developments on the ground regarding the Turkish threats to invade the town of Tel Rifaat.
In a speech made to MPs of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on May 25, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the “Turkish military would continue to rid its neighbour of terrorists” referring to the YPG.
“We are taking a new step in establishing a 30km security zone along our southern border,” Erdogan said. “We will clean up Tel Rifaat and Manbij.”
This raised the fears of the people of the two towns who refuse any Russian-Turkish coordination that aim at hitting Iranian interests in the northern countryside of Aleppo.
The Lebanese Hezbollah enjoys a significant influence in both Nubl and al-Zahraa. Also Iranian-backed militias like National Defense Forces (NDF), Liwa Fatemiyoun, Hashemiyoun and Liwa Zainebiyoun have opened their own headquarters in the two towns. In addition, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has a military post in the outskirt of al-Zahraa.
Undoubtedly, Iran opposes any potential Turkish operation against Tel Rifaat because this will threaten its existence especially since it aspires to expand more in the Syrian territory.
In 2013, the Turkish-backed armed opposition factions namely Ahrar al-Sham and Levant Front (al-Jabha al-Shamiya) in addition to al-Nusra Front took control over the surrounding villages of Nubl and al-Zahraa except for the northern side, besieging the two towns for three years.
Afrin region, which was running by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), lies to the north of the two Shia towns which constituted a humanitarian gate during the era of the opposition’s siege.
Between 2013 and 2016, the residents of both Nubl and al-Zahraa used to go to Afrin to purchase their necessities and daily needs. This led the opposition factions to shell the inhabited region of Afrin.
In 2016, the Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias managed to break the siege of Nubl and al-Zahraa.
In the same year, the YPG wiped away the opposition factions from the town of Tel Rifaat and its vicinity because the latter were firing shells at residential neighborhoods of Afrin.
Since 2016 the residents of both Nubl and al-Zahraa have been living in relative stability and calm, but on May 13, 10 Iranian-backed militants of the two towns were killed and others were wounded in a bombing that targeted their bus in the vicinity of Anjara, a village in Aleppo western countryside which is controlled by the opposition.
Iran struggles to defend both Nubl and al-Zahraa in order to avoid what it faced in the two Shia towns of al-Fu’ah and Kafriya in Idlib countryside in 2018.
Al-Fu’ah and Kafriya are two Shia towns in Idlib Governorate which were besieged by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS-formerly al-Nusra Front) from 2015 to 2018. The siege was broken after reaching a deal between the Syrian government and the HTS stipulating the evacuation of the two towns and settles them in the city of Aleppo.
Since the eruption of the Syrian war in 2011, Iran has officially announced its support to the Syrian government and it continues recruiting Syrian militants within the ranks of factions affiliated with it attracting them through many offers and exploiting the economic and livelihood conditions that Syria is going through.