Syrians, Turkey prepare for new conflict in Idlib
Residents of Syria’s war-ravaged Idlib province are preparing for a new conflict following three months of ceasefire, as Syrian regime troops and allied Iranian militias mass in the south of the province, near rebel-held territory.
On Wednesday, Russia launched its first airstrikes in three months on a rebel-held area of northwestern Syria where Idlib, Hama, and Latakia provinces meet. Russian and regime planes have been flying over Syria’s rebel-held areas on a regular basis since then.
On Thursday, Mzahem Alsaloum, a former spokesman for the Revolutionary Commando Army, a US-allied rebel group which operates in Tanf in southern Syria, tweeted that Turkey had warned rebel groups in Idlib province to prepare for a military offensive by the regime south of the strategic M4 highway, which links the cities of Aleppo and Latakia and passes through Idlib province.
The March 5 2020 agreement between Turkey and Russia which established a ceasefire agreement in Idlib province said that the two countries could jointly patrol the M4 highway but protesters, believed to be linked to HTS, have blocked the road and stalled the patrols.
In response to the Russian and regime moves on the air and the ground, Turkey has been reinforcing its military presence in Idlib, positioning short-range Atilgan anti-aircraft missiles in the Jabal Al-Zawiya area, which is believed to be a key regime target.
On Thursday, the Turkish army set up four new positions in villages in Idlib province and reinforced positions
Before the March 5 ceasefire Turkey managed to stall a regime offensive in Idlib by shooting down dozens of regime aircraft and bombing regime positions with drones.
Yusuf Katipoglu, a member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, told The New Arab that there were currently 25,000 Turkish soldiers in Idlib province and that Turkey was prepared for all eventualities.
“Russia has suffered a number of defeats in Libya, including the loss of air defence systems targeted by Turkish drones. It is trying to respond in Syria, in Idlib in particular. But Turkey is ready for all possiblities”, he said.
Military sources from the Syrian opposition also told The New Arab’s Arabic service that Syrian rebels would launch a counter-offensive, backed by Turkish troops, if the regime attacks rebel-held areas of Idlib. This offensive would reportedly target the cities of Maaret al-Numan and Saraqeb, which were captured by the regime in December 2019 and February 2020 respectively.
Hundreds of people were killed and nearly a million displaced in the regime’s most recent campaign in Idlib province, which began in November 2019 and ended when the March ceasefire agreement was signed. The regime managed to capture several cities in Idlib province, which are now largely empty of their inhabitants, before Turkey intervened.