by Eray Fox (Twitter)
Ahrar al Sham, an armed opposition group active in Syria, raided a dissident cell of the so-called ''Liwa al Aqsa'' group (formerly ''Sarayat al Quds'') in the village of Tell Mannas near Maarat al-Numan today.
Liwa al Aqsa is a radical islamist armed group with close ties to ISIS. The group executed up to atleast 119 fighters of the FSA factions FSA Central Division, Jaish al-Nasr and Jaish al-Tahrir in northern Hama province in early February 2017, when the group decided to leave their areas towards ISIS controlled areas, after their disagreements with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the other opposition groups became unresolvable. An agreement was reached, when most of LAA left towards ISIS-held areas in eastern Hama while other parts of the group joined HTS.
Clashes took place between sleeper cells of Liwa al Aqsa and Ahrar al Sham militants in southern Idlib today, after Ahrar al Sham raided a sleeper cell position in the area. The exact location is unknown, but the cell was most likely responsible for some of the frequent IED and assassination attacks in the area. Not long after the ongoing raid started, a carbomb was seen on the highway of Maraat al-Numan to Idlib. It was succesfully neutralized by Ahrar al-Sham and the driver killed. The clashes around the sleeper cell's positions took place with casualties on both side, atleast one Liwaa al-Aqsa member was shot dead and three others blew themselves up.
It might be surprising to some that an ISIS-linked group has an established area so close to Maarat al-Numan, often called a "moderate stronghold" of Idlib which opposes both HTS and ISIS vehemently. Several sources mentioned that when HTS took control of several areas in Jabal al-Zawiya in northern Hama countryside, the former stronghold area of Liwa al-Aqsa, the group's members fled and found refuge in Ahrar al-Sham controlled areas near Maarat al-Numan.