By Oliviero Reusser
Homs - Since much of the fighting in Syria has moved to the general east of the country, the most intense battles were fought in eastern Homs in the northern and eastern proximity of Palmyra, in Suweida governorate and first eastern Aleppo and now southern Raqqa and, soon, Deir ez-Zor. One front, which has also seen combat but is often overlooked, is the countryside of Hama, east of Salamiyah. A vital Syrian government supply route runs through Salamiyah through Ithriya and Khanasir into Aleppo.
The area in eastern Salamiyah is a desert and ardous, with some mountains inbetween. ISIS is very capable fighting in areas like these and its many successful raids on Syrian army positions or even deep attacks like the one in May 2017, when it attacked Aqarib and killed and injured over 100 people, executing several civilians in the streets before retreating or being pushed back. Securing the areas will be vital not only to secure the supply road but create a buffer zone between the more inhabitated Salamiyah outskirts and ISIS-held areas.
As can be seen in the tweet above, the infamous commander of the elite "Tiger Forces", Suheil al-Hassan, has reportedly been pictured in the countryside of eastern Salamiyah. Synonymous with some of the most notable victories on the Syrian battlefield, Suheil's presence in eastern Salamiyah (if the tweet caption is indeed correct) can only mean one thing: a new offensive will soon be launched in the area. Even though there were small advances in the area and heavy clashes aswell as many airstrikes, especially on the area around Uyaribat, a major logistic hub for ISIS in the region, a big offensive and large advance has not happened thus far.
On the contrary: on the 3rd August 2017, reports emerged on twitter about a supposed terrible situation in the eastern countryside of Salamiyah.
The situation, corroborated by other reports, appears to have been dire for little time: according to the report, ISIS has begun to threaten the "first line" of Salamiyah. Its unclear what exactly is meant by this, but it probably refers to the first line of villages between the town and the front (Salamiyah is only roughly 20km away). In a successful ISIS attack, a scenario ending in the killing of dozens of civilians like in Aqarib could repeat itself, which is certainly not what anyone would want. It appears that the frontline lacks a competent commander, which could indicate that "The Tiger" is not actually in the area, but possibly somewhere else - for now. The report also mentons that they "shouldnt cooperate with someone who has his own group of fighters"; this is probably a reference to the infamous "Suquour al-Sahara" group, a battlefield-proven private militia, which had recently caused an uproar during its deployment in the area about a month ago. After several mishaps, the militia has now been sent back to its bases (In Hama and Latakia) and it appears that it has even been disbanded by the Syrian government.
Nonetheless, the battle continues; while ISIS is not interested in giving up this territory for free, it seems that Syrian government forces are not yet ready to launch a full fledged offensive in the area, despite clashes continuing. However, as time passes, losses are taken: as seen in martyr reports and the tweet above, the frontline takes heavy hits regularly and ISIS often reports attacks with many casualties and destruction. On the 3rd of August alone, palestinian militias deployed to this frontline reported atleast a dozen casualties. It is likely only a question of little time before a major offensive is launched in this area aswell.