Sat 17 Nov 2018

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Would Assad’s Forces Expansion Stop at “Abu al-Duhur” Airbase?

Members of the Assad’s forces on the military fronts in the eastern countryside of Homs - September 2017 (Internet)

Members of the Assad’s forces on the military fronts in the eastern countryside of Homs - September 2017 (Internet)

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Assad forces’ control over “Abu al-Duhur” Military Airbase created a marked military difference in the eastern countryside of Idlib’s fronts, since it is the Syrian regime’s most prominent base in northern Syria, in addition to the manner with which the forces have controlled the airbase and which has been preceded by massive retreats on the part of the opposition factions in the southern-eastern countryside of Idlib and the southern countryside of Aleppo.

The main point around which many questions have erupted is the future of the military operations in the upcoming days. Would the Assad forces’ operations continue towards the international Damascus- Aleppo highway? Or would they stop at the current military line, as a commitment to the provisions of the “de-escalation” agreement, in which Idlib governorate was included last October?

After gaining control over “Abu al-Duhur,” the fronts witnessed a military stalemate, pervaded by opposite onslaughts by  “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” that functioned as an attempt to secure its positions, including the town of Abu al-Duhur, which forms the western gate to the Airbase, in addition to  a few strongholds in the northern part of the Airbase.

Enab Baladi communicated with military sources from the “Free Army” and others who are informed of the implementation of the “Astana” agreement’s provisions; they said that “Abbu al-Duhur” Airbase is the Assad forces’ final limit in the eastern countryside of Idlib, for the following western area is a “demilitarized area” according to the international agreement.

Turkish Reconnaissance to Monitor Violations

Only a week after Assad forces’ entry to “Abu al-Duhur,” a column of six Turkish cars got in the town of al-Eiss in the southern countryside of Idlib, followed by another column that entered to the fronts in southern and eastern rural Idlib. According to sources from the “Free Army,” the vehicles’ plan focused on monitoring the areas under the Assad’s forces in the town of al-Hadher and its surrounding villages and towns.

Sources, wishing to be anonymous, said that the column had a specific mission, which is to monitor the areas to which Assad’s forces have lately progressed and to observe potential violations of the provisions of “Astana7” agreement, which drew the accurate positioning of the military parties, which are functioning in the area.

The “de-escalation” agreement in Idlib, divided the governorate to three geographical areas; one is run by Russia, the second is controlled by Turkey for being close to its borders and the third is a demilitarized area; former leaders in the “Free Army” confirmed this to Enab Baladi.

The area at the east of the railway, on the Aleppo-Damascus road, will be demilitarized and emptied of fighters and factions, under a Russian protection. However, it will be run by local councils. The second area is between the railway and the highway, and the third will be controlled by Turkey.

In the past a few days, however, Assad’s forces have made a massive progress and controlled huge areas to the east of the railway which forced the opposition factions to retreat to the areas west to the railway, which is considered a violation of the “Astana” agreement.

Brigadier General Ahmad Beri, the “Free Army’s” Chief of Staff, said that the Syrian regime was banned from entering the areas to the west of the railway, but it alleged the presence of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) in the area after a route have been opened for them from the eastern countryside of Hama to the Sinjar Nahiyah.

He told Enab Baladi that communication have not yet been conducted with the Turks for completing the implementation of the “Astana” provisions. However, he assured that “the Assad’s forces would not dare to enter the areas to the west of the railway,” calling it a “demilitarized area” and pointed out that the Turkish monitoring entities have entered in the past a few days to fix points and continue the follow up process inwards.

 “Abu al-Duhur” Battles Have Ceased

On the other side, Assad’s forces have limited their operations to the eastern countryside of Idlib and the southern countryside of Aleppo, as well as some of the towns and villages surrounding the military Airbase, in contradiction to the past a few days which witnessed a military momentum on the one hand and a wide media coverage on the other hand.

As informed sources, from the Syrian regime’s part, have told Enab Baladi, Assad’s forces have finalized their battles in eastern Idlib by controlling the strategic Airbase, amidst battles against the “Islamic State” (ISIS), after the forces managed to reach the outskirts of the area of Sinjar, to the south of the Airbase.

The military sources of the “Free Army” explained that the central region, to the outskirts of which Assad’s forces have arrived and which expands to the international highway, from Khan Shaykhun to ICARDA in Aleppo, is a participatory and a demilitarized area, to be entered by the interposition Russian and Turkish forces in the coming days.

They also considered that the Syrian opposition’s refusal to go to “Sochi” will have a positive impact on the military factions on the ground; if Assad’s forces are to progress to the west of the railway, there would be a major confrontation on the part of the military factions, which will count on the absence of international coordination in the area separating the Airbase from the highway.

Turkish forces have, so far, spread in three positions in the western countryside of Aleppo and eight points remained.  Brigadier General Beri confirmed former information that the Turkish army would arrive at the area of al-Lataminah in the northern countryside of Hama, according to the plan set up by the “Astana7”.

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