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Assad on Idlib: Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose Open in fullscreen

Zak Brophy

Assad on Idlib: Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose

Syrian refugees walk at the Idlib's FSA controlled refugee camp April 14, 2015. [AFP/GETTY]

Date of publication: 17 April, 2015

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Analysis: Syrian president puts on brave face in interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen, downplaying loss of the provincial capital Idlib at the end of last month.
Bashar al-Assad has said the fall of Idlib to opposition forces was was no big deal: "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."

The Syrian president made the remark to the Swedish newspaper Expressen, only weeks after his forces were routed in the northern town by a new opposition coalition including the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham.

It was only the second provincial capital to fall out of government control - Raqqa was the first - in four years of war.

Regardless, Bashar told Expressen: "When you look at the context of the war for the last four years, you have ups and downs. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."


     Idlib province is critical for supply lines from Aleppo to the government strongholds in the costal regions
Assad may put a brave face on the defeat but the shifting balance of power on the battlefields in Idlib province could pose a significant challenge to his forces in the north and west of the country. 

"Idlib province is critical for supply lines from Aleppo to the government strongholds in the costal regions, down towards Hama and also north up to the border region with Turkey," said Absi Semeisem, Syria affairs expert for al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic service, who is himself from Idlib.

Its fall represents a symbolic loss for the regime and morale boost for the opposition as the military has always prioritised its control of urban centres over rural areas.

The town itself represents only part of the battle and the presence of the army and local loyal militias was relatively small before their defeat.

Both the opposition and the government are now focusing on Mastoumeh and Qarmeed military bases.

Regime forces and the all of the local military leadership have pulled back to Mastoumeh, and Qarmeed remains the governments largest artillery base in the country.
     Syrian authorities appear to have shown complete disregard for human suffering by violating the global prohibition against chemical warfare

"If the government maintain control of Mastoumeh they can launch a mission to retake the city. If the opposition take it then they will take the whole province," said Semeisem.

The opposition fighters are in the process of bolstering their supplies and forces around Mastoumeh, while cutting supply lines to the base.

Assad, meanwhile, denied that the regime has used chemical weapons in its response to the opposition gains in Idlib.

"We always said this is propaganda against Syria from the very first day, to demonise the president to demonise the state," he said.

Human Rights Watch has launched an investigation after footage was uploaded to the internet of children dying from the effects of chlorine gas.

"Syrian authorities appear once again to have shown complete disregard for human suffering by violating the global prohibition against chemical warfare," said Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

Looking for a scapegoat

Assad also laid the blame for the loss of Idlib on foreign meddling, telling Expressen: "The main factor was the huge support that came through Turkey; logistic support, and military support, and of course financial support that came through Saudi Arabia and Qatar."

The offensive on Idlib was launched by a new coalition of factions under the banner "Jaish al-Fateh".

Turkey has since early 2014 been trying to unite rebel groups fighting in northern Syria while pressing the Nusra Front to dissasociate itself from al-Qaeda. There has been success in the former but not in the latter.

Jaish al-Fatah's capture of Idlib may be linked to Turkey's policy to unite the factions fighting in the north but the extent of Ankara's direct involvement in facilitating the assualt remains unclear.

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