Heavy clashes took place on the western outskirts of Azaz city as Kurdish forces and Islamist rebels battled over control of two key checkpoints. Furthermore, reports indicate that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Democratic Forces are gathering for a major offensive which aims to capture the border-city of Azaz. However, rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jabhat al-Nusra (Syrian Al-Qaeda group) have fortified the gates of Azaz and seem more than reluctant to hand over the keys of the city to approaching Kurdish fighters.
Remarkably, rebels in northern Aleppo have been able to stabilize their somewhat vulnerable frontline over the past 40 days or so. Despite some Kurdish advances in early 2016, neither side seems to have the current regional upper hand. Meanwhile, rebel fighters at Azaz seem to enjoy at least some artillery support from the Turkish Army which has been deployed all along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Furthermore, the Turkish government is and has historically supplied the rebel-held countryside of Aleppo with goods and supplies, thus hinting at the importance of the Syrian Opposition’s success from a Turkish perspective. With rebels cut off from their Syrian rebel allies in neighbouring Idlib province, they are now increasingly dependent on whatever support they can get from Turkey. However, on the rebels’ eastern flank lurks the Islamic State, which seems more than willing to grab potential thinly defended rebel-held lands as its done several times in the past.
The coming weeks will almost undoubtably see a decisive battle between Kurdish forces and Islamist rebels; if the latter is able to defend Azaz and push back along the Turkish border, the armed Syrian Opposition could technically reconnect with rebels in Idlib at some point. Nevertheless, Kurds are unlikely to surrender the Efrin region and might very well gather their forces for a final assault as to capture Azaz city and deal an unbearable blow to the remaining rebels in the region.