In early April, a huge explosion in Al-Ahdath, a town in the rural Aleppo governorate that is under the control of the SDF-affiliated Afrin Liberation Forces (ALF), destroyed homes surrounding an ALF headquarters, which appeared to have contained a storage facility for weapons and ammunition.
The explosion killed three Kurdish civilians who had been displaced from Afrin. Six ALF fighters who had been in the headquarters at the time of the blast were also killed. The SDF has not issued any official clarification about the explosion and its aftermath, though some activists wrote on social media that the cause of the incident was an exploded gas canister in the weapons depot.
Al-Hadath is located near the Central Prison, the Free Zone, and a cement factory north of Aleppo. The town was under opposition control from 2012 to 2016, after which the SDF took over with the help of Russian air cover.
Al-Hadath is one of thirty towns and villages under SDF control in the northern countryside of Aleppo, the largest of which is Tel Rifaat. This area of SDF control is called Mouqataa Al-Shahbaa. After the SDF seized the area, most residents fled to displacement in camps in opposition-held areas near the border with Turkey.
In 2018, more than 100,000 displaced people from Afrin arrived in Al-Shahbaa after Turkish-backed opposition forces took control of their hometowns. The SDF subsequently distributed the empty homes of displaced Al-Ahdath residents to these newly arrived families, most of whom were of Kurdish descent. Other homes were converted into military and security offices, as well as offices for a party affiliated with the majority-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
The early April explosion completely destroyed the military headquarters, known as Commune Building No. 7, as well as seven surrounding houses, turning them into rubble, according to a local source in Al-Hadath who spoke with The Syria Report. The Kurdish Red Crescent subsequently worked to unearth the survivors, as well as remove the bodies of the dead from under the rubble.
According to the local source, residents were not previously aware that there existed a weapons depot inside the military headquarters. After the explosion, however, residents discovered that other abandoned homes in Al-Hadath were also being used by the ALF to store weapons and ammunition, raising fears of future explosions.
Since 2018, the ALF has maintained a presence along the lines of contact with opposition forces in the northern part of Aleppo governorate. The ALF sometimes carries out armed operations against opposition forces in towns near the line of contact, such as Maara, Azaz, Afrin, and Al-Bab. ALF fighters fear that their weapons in Al-Ahdath could be targeted by Turkish drones, which maintain a near-constant aerial presence in the region. The ALF could be storing their weapons and ammunition in residential areas as a form of cover, raising serious concerns for the housing, land and property rights, not to mention the lives of local residents.