Idlib in the crosshairs

TEHRAN, Aug. 05 (MNA) – Russian’s stance regarding northern and southern Syria in the past week suggests that new developments are underway on the battlefields in Syria.

“The work [in Syria] is in full swing, though a lot remains to be done. At the same time, it is necessary to strike a final blow against terrorists near Idlib, who still remain there,” Lavrov said while speaking on the sidelines of the 51st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial meeting in Singapore recently.

Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, in an interview with Russia Today, has said “more than 160 members of the Islamic State terror group in southwestern Syria surrendered. An operation to eliminate illegal armed groups in Syria’s southwestern provinces of Suwayda, Daraa and Quneitra took place this past month. The countries acting as guarantors in the southern de-escalation zone, namely, the United States and Jordan, failed to take any measures when the situation in southern Syria has deteriorated, although they were regularly briefed on the situation there. The Syrian army, with the support of the Russian forces, was able to liberate the entire region. The adjacent area of al-Tanf, which is under the control of U.S. forces, are seeing an increase in the presence of ISIS terrorists trying to use the area as a base for attacking the suburbs of  Suwayda and Rif Damascus, Palmyra and and Deir ez-Zor province.”

“Militants of the terrorist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, known formerly as Jabhat al-Nusra along with other groups are concentrating their manpower in the north of Lattakia and Hama Governorates and to the southeast of Aleppo. They shelled the residential quarters” Maj.-Gen. Alexei Tsygankov, the head of the Russian center for reconciliation of the warring sides in Syria, said on Thursday.  

The Russian center for reconciliation calls on the field commanders of the illegal paramilitary groups to renounce armed provocations and to turn to the path of peaceful settlement in the districts under their control.

Abdel Bari Atwan, a famous analyst of the Arab world, wrote “the comments of two outstanding Russian officials lends voices to political and military developments in Syria; one is the chief of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate, Rudskoy. He also said the Syrian forces beat ISIS and Tahrir al-Sham in southern Syria and freed 3,332 square kilometers, gaining control of 146 inhabited places and dominating the three provinces of Daraa, Suwayda, Quneitra and the entire Jordanian border. The other is Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov who emphasized the need for eradicating terrorists in the northwest of Idlib in Syria determines the next deployment of the Syrian and Russian military. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recently announced at a meeting with the Russian delegation in Damascus that their goal is Idlib.

Atwan highlighted “the Syrian Army's strategy, in coordination with the Russians and Iranians, has been to reclaim the borders and passages in the east, west, north and south of the country. The borders of Jordan and Iraq are clear now but the borders with Turkey remain volatile where weapons, gunmen and billions of dollars are lodged.”

He continued “some believe that the attack on Idlib is delayed for its heavy political and military cost, the presence of Turkey and the de-escalation zone area. Turkish military and political authorities have been reluctant to deal with Moscow and the Syrian army, indicating that they did not intervene during the Russian and Syrian air strikes in Aleppo.  The southern provinces, dominated by the Syrian army, were among the areas of  the de-escalation zone in Syria, thanks to the efforts made by the Syrian army.”

Atwan added “a new front has been formed under the auspices of Turkish intelligence, including Ahrar al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zinki, Jaysh al-Ahrar. This aims to challenge Tahrir al-Sham's leadership led by Abu Mohammad al-Julani, which dominates 60 percent of Idlib.”

Atwan wrote “this is simultaneous with widespread assassinations and internal disputes between the armed groups in Idlib, which targeted the major Nusra leaders Abu Bakr al-Masri, Abu al-Barra al-Humawi and Abu Muham al-Lazeqi. There is possibility of more assassinations if al-Julani cannot tolerate Turkey’s pressure.”

Atwan further stated “the obvious point is that there is another Idlib for groups that will not compromise with the Syrian army. They have no choice but to die or go to the Turkish border and be killed by the Turkish forces. Turkey in a dilemma. On the one hand, standing against the Russian-Syrian invasion, is a potential or even likely loss to his Russian allies. On the other hand, Erdogan does not accept new refugees to his country and seeks to get rid of 3.5 million displaced Syrians, and hence his desire to eliminate Tahrir al-Sham or the Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Idlib province is limited to the north by Turkey, to the east by Aleppo, to the south by the Hama province, and to the west by the Lattakia province. Idlib is the seventh Syrian province in terms of area and the number of its inhabitants before 2011 was about 1.5 million.

Of the various terrorist groups in Idlib, the most important is Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra. In particular, since July 2017, the group has had the most influence there.

Jaysh al-Badiya (Army of Badiya) and al-Malahim (Epic Battles) are two small terrorist factions that fight in the southern regions of Idlib. On January 11, 2018, Jaish al-Malahim issued a statement announcing that it was fighting alongside Jaish al-Badiya in southern Idlib.

The Turkistan Islamic Party or Turkistan Islamic Movement (TIM), formerly known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is a terrorist organization based in the Xinjiang province in northwestern China. The group has close ties to al-Qaeda. It has media tools such as the Telegram network, which publishes their statements and activities.

Some call the battle of Idlib Um Almaarek (Mother of all battles). Some speak of a very “hard battle” but others believe that, given that the terrorists and armed groups in Idlib have been defeated elsewhere, the Syrian army may not be stressed mopping them up, that they will be demoralized. And the terrorists in Idlib are not in harmony with each other. The Syrian army should be able to prevail with relative ease.

From the point of view of many observers, the battle of Idlib must bring an end to the war. Some, referring to a possible reaction from Turkey, also believe that Turkey might not get involved, especially because the Zionist regime did not really intervene during the battles in the south of Syria. Undoubtedly though, Erdo?an will pursue Turkey's interests as he sees them.

It is obvious that the conflict in northern Syria started a few days ago, and Um Almaarek is on its way, especially since more than 50,000 terrorists are in Idlib, and they no longer have a place in Syria and cannot go to another country. They will fight to save themselves.


News Code 136428


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