Map: The Wadi al-Adhib Pocket

Wadi al-Adhib Map

Since 4 October, in the wake of government advances east of the city of Salamiyah, many sources (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) have incorrectly declared the Hama Governorate to be cleared of IS fighters. This assertion is not correct. In fact, IS still controls a small area to the south of the Sabboura-Ithriyah road which includes a few hamlets as well as the region of Wadi al-Adhib, the site a major refugee crisis that has lasted around six weeks thus far.

The pocket was formed on 2 September following the fall of the village of Jarouh. After that, most mapmakers incorrectly assumed the area had been evacuated by IS and began marking it as under government control. One notable exception is the strongly anti-government Nors Studies, which continues to show the area as controlled by IS.

Government forces aren’t currently attacking IS forces in the pocket, but the settlements are occasionally subjected to air raids. A 17 September air raid reportedly targeted the villages of Abu Hakfa, Rasm Amun, and Rasm al-Tinah. A raid was reported on Abu al-Fashafish on 5 October. IS fighters in the area are said to maintain cordial relations with HTS fighters on the north side of the Sabboura-Ithriyah road. This rare example of HTS-IS cooperation in 2017 exists probably due to the fact that most IS fighters in this area are locals who were previously involved with other rebel groups.

Government action against the pocket has likely been complicated by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the area. Hundreds – possibly thousands – of displaced people from the villages around Uqayribat have funneled into the pocket and into Wadi al-Adhib hoping to cross over to the rebel-held “Greater Idlib” region. The refugee crisis, which has been ongoing since late August, has garnered significant coverage from pro-rebel Arabic language sources but not English language sources.

Reports of evacuations of civilians have been intermittent since August. Evacuations were first reported in late Augustearly September, on 20 September, on 25 September, and, most recently, in early October. These evacuations have only covered civilians and government forces have refused to allow IS fighters to leave the area.  Some of the refugees have tried to escape across the road, while a few others have surrendered to government forces. Unconfirmed reports exist of as many as 80 refugees killed attempting to cross the road on 26 September (more info), while pro-government sources have claimed the killing of IS fighters attempting the same escape. The most recent reports indicate that, along with IS fighters, a large number of civilians are still in the area, though most have been evacuated.

A full-size version of this map, which was created using data from Google Maps, can be found here. Please note: some areas have been marked “Contested or Unclear” because conflicting information exists over the control of those regions.

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