The fighting in Syria between Turkish Syrian government troops has once again reignited. Turkish military forces have launched a new attack against the Syrian Army in the northern area outside of Aleppo. Meanwhile, Syrian troops are massing in the Jabal Al-Zawiya area as they seem to be preparing to resume offensive operations.

According to a field report from the Aleppo countryside, Turkish troops targeted the Syrian Army’s positions near the city of Manbij, injuring a few soldiers in the process.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said that Turkish artillery pounded Syrian positions around Manbij, which resulted in the wounding of two high ranking officers. Just a few days before, the Turks targeted the same area but their shelling resulted in only the killing of a young girl and her father. 

According to the SOHR, the Turks have also hacked into Syrian army radio frequencies around Idlib and issued a warning not to violate the de-escalation zone.

Their message was a clear warning, “The leaders of your ‎army are putting your lives at risk and leading you to death when ‎they order you to bomb the de-escalation zone. Do not penetrate the de-escalation area or you will receive ‎a deadly response.”

In a statement, Syria said that the Turkish military’s attack around the city of Manbij was unprovoked, as there are rarely any hostilities in the Aleppo Governate. However, since launching an operation in October to drive Kurdish-led groups from their last stronghold in Syria, Turkish forces and their militia opposition allies have frequently clashed with Syrian troops around Manbij, a key strategic town that sits on the M4 highway west of the Euphrates River.

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Troops of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), captured Manbij from ISIS fighters in 2016. Since then, Manbij has been a flashpoint between the Turks and the Americans, who were advising, equipping, and accompanying SDF troops in the fight against ISIS.

The area around Manbij is where the Russian and Turkish forces were conducting joint patrols. 

Located in the middle of northern Syria, Manbij, because of the supply lines (M4) that run through it, is a key strategic piece for all the different factions that have been fighting in the nine-year Syrian civil war. Manbij has frequently changed hands during the war. After being taken by anti-Assad rebels in 2012, the city was captured by the Islamic State (ISIS), in 2014, and then, the SDF drove ISIS out three years ago. Manbij connects the western port city of Latakia to Aleppo, Raqqa and oil-rich Deir Az Zor in the east through the M4 highway.

Manbij is significant for Turkey President Erdogan’s plan to create a so-called “safe zone” cleared of Kurdish SDF fighters. He also plans to use this “safe zone” to relocate some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently housed in Turkey. 

Assad needs the M4 highway to connect all of his territories, which is why Syrian troops are constantly trying to push their way in. The Syrian Army has become more aggressive in the Jabal Al-Zawiya region as it pushes troops and armored vehicles into the area. 

Despite the proposed joint Turkish-Russian patrols in the area, militant groups belonging to Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) continue to control large parts of the M4 highway. This has been a sore spot for Assad.