In the bottleneck… Changes that are reshaping the face of Idlib
Enab Baladi’s Investigation Team
Perhaps it will be futile to recall global historical scenarios and compare them to Syria, which has become a graveyard for political and military analysts. However, the situation in the Syrian province of Idlib recalls the German “Free State Bottleneck” scenario, which had been declared one century before.
In 1918 the First World War ceased under the Treaty of Versailles, and the victors shared Germany. However, an enclave adjacent to France remained out of control, to be declared then a state by its residents and then dubbed as the “bottleneck state” because of its shape.
This toddler country, besieged by neighboring countries, controlled by France in 1923, returned after that to its motherland, Germany, one year later.
In Syria, the countries that have intervened in favor of the conflicting parties have taken their shares, but the fate of Idlib strip, which is bordering Turkey, remains unclear, amid unresolved presuppositions.
Achieving control over the city of Idlib, on 28 March 2015, was a military blow to the Syrian regime, for Idlib has become the second province to get out of the regime’s control after Raqqa. This victory has been considered then as one of the most prominent achievements of the military wing of the Syrian revolution and a geographical spot that serves as a launching pad for military operations, which have crossed the boundaries of the province’s administrative borders.
Today, all the influential countries in the Syrian file have their eyes on Idlib after the eastern Ghouta and northern Homs cases have been resolved in favor of al-Assad forces, especially as it is the largest reserve of opponents to the Syrian regime, after receiving thousands of civilians and military, after the recent campaigns of displacement from the vicinity of the capital Damascus.
The three million civilians have not been able to savour the taste of victory after al-Assad’s withdrawal from the province for more than three years, for their joy turned into fear because of the ambiguous international agreements that have been masked under the de-escalation agreement, and the subsequent internal conflict among the factions, especially the one between Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and Syrian Liberation Front.
Since the beginning of 2018, some complicated events swept Idlib. Enab Baladi will try to recount these events so as to foresee the future that is awaiting the province, whether it will make part of the areas under Turkish control, which is the scenario that happened in northern countryside of Aleppo, or whether a new reality will be dictated by the Syrian regime supported by Russia.
Uncontrolled security breach
By the end of April 2018, a whole wave of assassinations and killing attempts have swept Idlib, and they coincided with killings and kidnappings of civilians which have given free reign to insecurity in the province, and all this was preceded by an internal strife that has shattered the region.
Leading members of the Free Army and Islamic factions have been assassinated, in addition to members of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, as well as displaced people, pharmacists, currency traffickers, key figures and activists. Although the pace of operations has declined, their details are still as unknown and masked as their perpetrators.
The fight between Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and the Syrian Liberation Front (formed after a coalition between Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki on February 18, 2018) contributed to boosting the state of insecurity. This is what the political analyst and researcher Mahmood Osman has noticed, telling Enab Baladi that the fighting is the main reason behind all what has happened.
Osman stated that the state of insecurity and the absence of authorities “conveyed a powerful message to the international and regional powers and all those acting powers on the Syrian stage to resolve the situation in Idlib.” He noted that the province “has turned into a dormant volcano ready to explode at any moment (…) In case it did, then lava will be spread around it, and it might bring about a humanitarian tragedy.”
“The most monstrous faces of the inter-Arab dispute has been reflected in the mirror of the Syrian conflict,” according to the researcher, who compared what is happening in Idlib to what eastern Ghouta had witnessed in the two fights, having Jaysh al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman as the main parties of the conflict, supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar .
According to Osman’s point of view, the lack of vision, recklessness and dependence on non-Syrian supporting parties, are “factors that imposed an abnormal situation and confined everyone in the bottleneck.” He added that “every party belonging to al-Qaeda, regardless of the name attributed to it, including Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, fell in the trap of Iranian tactics, which have always paved the way for the demonization of Idlib while planning to commit massacres in it.”
Ibrahim al-Idlibi, military advisor to the Free Army, held the so-called parties of interest to be responsible for the assassinations in Idlib.
“The three parties (ISIS, al-Assad’s forces and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) had the common aim of weakening the moderate opposition power and beating it to death until the Syrian north would fall into a state of insecurity,” said al-Idlibi to Enab Baladi. He explained that “Tahrir al-Sham seeks to eliminate the leaders of the factions, and the regime is working in the same framework to destabilize the region.”
The assassination pace declined following the “Free Army” hunting of the cells in cooperation with the other factions, according to the military advisor, who talked about efforts to eliminate the phenomenon of insecurity in the north.
Some residents of the province believed that al-Qaeda cells and Jund al-Aqsa faction had a role in the assassinations, while others described it as an internal exclusion process in preparation for a new phase in which the balance of power in the region would be different.
|The military sources following the factions fight in Idlib, which has begun on 20 February, 2018, stated that the death toll from all sides exceeded 700 victims, along with 500 wounded during the clashes in both Idlib countryside and western Aleppo.|
The sources told Enab Baladi that more than 300 members of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham were captured by Syrian Liberation Front and Tahrir al-Sham captured 200 members in return, which human casualties have been estimated at around 80 percent of the total loss.
“Guarantor States” are competing over the fate of Idlib
The province is subject to a “de-escalation” agreement signed in Astana last year, and the province’s case is run by the guarantors of the agreement (Turkey, Russia and Iran).
Al-Assad’s forces advanced in large areas in east Hama and Idlib with Russian support. By the end of last year, they reached Abu al-Duhur military airbase and then stopped their military operations in the area.
The rivalry over the fate of Idlib began in early 2018, when Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin warned during a press conference in Ankara that Russia and Iran would reenact the scenario of eastern Ghouta in northern Homs countryside or Idlib.
This warning was followed then by Iranian threats announced by Ali Akbar Velayati, senior advisor to the Supreme Leader in international affairs, who said during his speech to official television on April 13, 2018, that the next objective for what he called the “resistance front” is to “liberate Idlib.” He stressed that “these operations will be crowned with victory”.
Following these threats, France warned against “the danger of a new disaster” and calling for “determining the fate of Idlib through a political process involving the disarmament of militias.”
In turn, Turkey has established eight out of the 12 points it has approved under the Astana talks, the last of which was in the city of Murk in northern Hama and its neighboring areas in early April 2018.
Previously, seven checkpoints were established in Anadan in southern Aleppo, three in the western countryside of Aleppo, and one in Talat al-Iss in the south of the province, in addition to two other checkpoints in Tell Touqan and in the vicinity of Maarrat al-Nu’man in east Idlib.
The latest change concerning the establishment of checkpoints was the entry of a delegation of the Russian military police to the village of Abu Dali on Thursday, 3 May, 2018. The division has been subdivided into two sections in the village of Umm Sehrij and another in the town of Sinjar, in an attempt to establish Russian checkpoints on the railway. Meanwhile, activists spoke about the withdrawal of the armed forces of Sheikh Ahmed Darwish in Abu Dali.
The military advisor of the Free Army, Ibrahim al-Idlibi, refused to believe in the theory of competition over the map of the region and stated that the map of Idlib and its countryside has been drawn through the establishment of Turkish checkpoints. He added that, “we can say that the war ended between the rebels and al-Assad’s forces in the region once and for all.”
According to al-Idlibi, “primarily Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime are bound to the eastern region of the railway.” He spoke about Turkish-Iranian-Russian mobile patrols, being responsible for the international highway Aleppo – Damascus, reaching the Turkish-held area, starting from Jarabulus through western Idlib countryside, reaching the points of concentration in the coast.
The crossings between Idlib and northern Aleppo, which are under Turkish influence, were opened within the framework of Operation Olive Branch, which was launched by Ankara with the participation of the Syrian Armed Forces against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)in Afrin and ended in March.
The Turkish researcher Mahmood Osman said that Turkey had previously offered a solution to America which consists of dismantling Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, removing foreign fighters and grasping the locals to distribute them among the factions of the “Free Army” and thus withdraw the pretext of “massacre” which Iran and its militias are preparing for in the region.
The Russians and the Iranians justify their operations against the province by claiming that it is a “den for al-Nusra and terrorism.”
However, Washington did not respond to the Turkish solution despite the repeated promises that Ankara has been receiving. The researcher attributed this to the fact that the area is beyond their control, thus Turkey had to coordinate with the Russians and mitigate the destructive intervention in Idlib, especially after the beginning of Astana talks.
The Turkish attempts to persuade the Russians about the need to dismantle Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham are ongoing. Osman believed that this has caused “the latest crack in Tahrir al-Sham led by Abu Mohammad al-Julani, who is maneuvering at the right time, but it all the time provides external forces with a pretext to act brutally in the region.”
The fate of Idlib will remain open without being resolved, in case the situation of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham remained the same, according to the vision of the Turkish researcher. He pointed out that “Iran is putting pressure on Russia in order to trigger the battle of Idlib.” He also stressed that “this scenario is not fictitious, but rather possible and open as long as al-Qaeda is present and as long as the influential states are unable to eliminate it.”
Until today, Turkey has succeeded in defusing the conflict, but things would get more serious unless appropriate steps are taken, according to Osman. He talked about “real dangers” that would open the door to Iranian and Russian intervention in the region, on top of which the “internal fighting, fragmentation among the factions, and the failure to form the national army, with the factions’ rejection to be affiliated to it, which is the key to the solution.”
Al-Qaeda has held an alliance in a proactive way
After days of reaching an agreement that ended the fighting between Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and the Syrian Liberation Front, two factions formed a new military body under the name of Hilf Nusrat al-Islam. There have been talks about its subordination to al-Qaeda as a new branch in Syria, with the emergence of names of figures who mostly belong to al-Qaeda camp that has recently parted away from the Tahrir al-Sham.
The two factions who formed the new military body are the Guardians of Religion Organization and the Ansar al-Tawhid. They have announced their integration “under cooperation on righteousness and piety to establish the religion of Allah,” according to a statement of the new formed faction, without specifying their main objective, and their position of the military formations who are active in Idlib.
According to well-informed sources about the affairs of the jihadist groups, the formation resulted from the fighting between the Syrian Liberation Front and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. The new faction took advantage of the fighting between these two factions and their preoccupation with each other to spread in the southern countryside of Idlib and to come to the front without obstacles.
The Guardians of Religion includes Jaysh al-Malahim, Jaysh al-Sahel, Jaysh al-Badiyah, Saraya al-Sahel, Saraya al-Kabul, Jund al-Sharia and Jund al-Aqsa cells led by the former Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham leader Abu Humam al-Shami.
The Guardians of Religion is also led by al-Qaeda leaders in the Shura Council which includes Abu Jilibib Tubas, Abu Khadija al-Urduni, Sami al-Oraydi, Abu al-Qasem, Abu Abdul al-Rahman al-Maki, and a number of former leaders of Al-Nusra Front who refused to disengage from al-Qaeda.
The Ansar al-Tawhid faction was formed in March 2018 by groups who have parted from Jund al-Aqsa faction in the city of Sarmin in Idlib, in which it is active alongside al-Nayrab area in the countryside of Aleppo.
Syrian researcher Ahmad Abazeid considered that Hilf Nusrat al-Islam is not a new faction, just as it is a defensive alliance of dissidents from al-Nusra Front in Guardians of Religion and Ansar al-Tawhid (Jund al-Aqsa faction).
When al-Nusra Front attacked the former Jund al-Aqsa faction, al-Qaeda faction did not participate in their defense and arrested groups of its Jordanian leaders. According to Abazeid, the alliance factions would immediately respond to one of its factions.
He explained to Enab Baladi that the recent agreement between the Syrian Liberation Front and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham was one of the main reasons for its formation, as al-Qaeda fears a joint military campaign by the two factions against it under Turkish support.
The two factions (Ansar al-Tawhid and the Guardians of Religion) believe that they would be a common target for Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and the rest of the factions in the next phase. According to some information piled up by Enab Baladi, leaders of the Syrian Liberation Front met in Turkey a day after the cessation of fighting agreement. There have been talks about Turkey’s request that they should be ready for the future phase of integration with the rest of the military factions and eliminate the figures and parties of al-Qaeda.
According to military sources (who asked not to be named), the commanders moved via helicopters from Antakya airport to Istanbul, without giving further details about the meeting of the two parties.
Turkey is trying to restore the military structure of the governorate. The first signs of this were providing financial and military support for the Free Syrian Army factions and Islamic factions, including Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, as an alternative to the US support.
The sources pointed out that in the previous days, the Syrian Liberation Front has received additional support from Turkey and started new steps as regards the organization and the numbers of combatants.
A complex equation… The Solution is in the hands of Tahrir al-Sham
Perhaps the most prominent thing that Idlib has witnessed since the beginning of 2018 is the change in the matter the two towns of Kafriya and al-Fu’ah, which has reemerged with an agreement that resulted in the exit of Tahrir al-Sham combatants from Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus, in return for the exit of 1500 people from the two towns to the regime-controlled areas.
Kafriya and al-Fu’ah have maintained their military borders inside Idlib for three years despite the large military arsenal surrounding them. This made them a difficult figure in the equation of the governorate. Their fate has then been decided on April 30, 2018, following the implementation of the last terms of the secretly-sponsored Five-Town agreement by Iran and Qatar.
The terms of the agreement are still vague until today, and it is one of the thorniest agreements in the history of the Syrian revolution, especially that it has displaced thousands of Syrian people from their homes in five Syrian cities (Madaya, al-Zabadani, Southern Damascus, Kafriya and al-Fu’ah). The agreement has been sponsored by Iran and Qatar, the most acting states in the Syrian matter, under a secret goal outside the Syrian borders, which is the exit of Qatari abductees from Iraq who have been held by the Iraqi Hezbollah in exchange for money.
Iran has insisted in various political negotiations regarding Syria to involve Kafriya and al-Fu’ah, and has repeatedly threatened that any military attack by the opposition factions on the two towns will be faced with a similar counterattack on the opposition-controlled areas. This made them a pretext which Assad forces and their supporting militias use to bomb Idlib. Against a missile fired by the opposition on the two towns, there were air raids hitting the city and its nearby countryside.
Since the imposition of the blockade, the Syrian regime has overlooked the two towns, and only Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah now show interest in them, especially following the Five-Town Agreement.
In the most recent Iranian statements, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari said that the matter of the two towns is one of Iran’s priorities during its political discussions on the Syrian matter. He expressed his regret over this matter being subject to the complexities of internal, regional and international calculations for Syria.
This is confirmed by the statement of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham after the agreement stated that the communication would be directly carried out with the Iranian side regarding the two towns, away from the Syrian regime.
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham said that “The Iranian militias have adopted the strategy of exercising pressure on the people of Yarmouk Camp in order to capture them and negotiate on them for the evacuation of the entire population and combatants of the two towns of Kafriya and al-Fu’ah.” It added: “After we have totally refused to submit to these pressures, and with the continuation of the fierce campaign against the camp, without any noticeable improvement, we have reached an agreement with the Iranian enemy under conditions, and then we have communicated with the other factions and informed them about the matter.”
The matter of the two towns of Kafriya and al-Fu’ah cannot be separated from the future of Idlib. The Iranian threats that have been repeated in the past years to enter the governorate are still ongoing within the political talks with the Russian and Turkish sides, especially since the announcement of the agreement came days after a meeting of the heads of guarantor states (Russia, Iran and Turkey), which emphasized the path of Astana as a major key to the Syrian matter.
The fate of Idlib reflects the division among the Syrian people
Military, economic and social signs and indicators were not enough to reveal the uncertainty about the future awaiting Idlib Governorate. That uncertainty was reflected on the views of the Syrian people and caused them to reconsider their expectations on the fate that awaits the region, especially after the evacuation of Kafriya and al-Fu’ah.
In an opinion poll which Enab Baladi conducted on its website regarding the fate of Idlib Governorate, the confusion of the Syrian people was clear, as their opinions were divided between the Syrian regime’s control over it, the imposition of Turkish influence or the continuation of internal chaos, in answer to the question, “What do you think is awaiting Idlib after the evacuation of Kafriya and al-Fu’ah?”
39% of the 1000 respondents expected that the Syrian regime would take control over Idlib Governorate. 38% of them considered that Turkey will impose its influence on the region to complete its operations in the north of Syria. The rest of the poll respondents (23%) said that the chaos inside Idlib, including the fighting and assassinations, will continue.
The Army: A misty future that depends on Turkey and Russia
The points of views of military commanders on the ground are different, who, despite being associated with international agendas, are capable of changing the course of military operations, whether for them or against them, in case the operations were not well calculated.
A leader in Jaysh al-Nasr, Abdel Moein al-Masry, considered that the future of Idlib is misty because, over the past years, Assad forces have deliberately displaced all the Syrian regions to the Governorate, which puts them face to face with a possible military action against them as well.
He told Enab Baladi that the opposition factions which are working in Idlib to repel Assad forces’ attacks are asked “to encumber the ranks and unify the military action,” and wondered about the purpose behind the displacement of large numbers of civilians to it.
The Colonel in the Free Syrian Army, Mustafa Bakour, ruled out that Idlib’s scenario would be similar to the rest of the displaced areas and expected that it will remain as it is in the near term.
According to his point of view, “it is not in the interest of the acting countries in Syria, especially the West, to end the Syrian revolution or to overthrow the regime. Therefore, Idlib will remain a gathering area for the revolutionaries after they finish with the rest of the regions.”
Bakour considered that the integration of military factions into one body is not at all probable because of conflicting interests of the supporting parties and leaders and deep differences between Islamic-oriented factions and some factions of the Free Syrian Army.
To save the governorate from the “dark fate”, the military leader explained that it is possible to put Idlib under the Turkish guardianship and pressure on the factions to find a formula to ensure joint coordination amid the lack of possibility of unification.
He pointed out that the Idlib military map may undergo some modification in line with the declared and undeclared Russian-Turkish agreements, and the recent leakage of al-Assad’s forces withdrawal from the east of the railway line sites could be the first step in redrawing the new Idlib map.
The Captain in Jaysh al-Izza, Mahmoud Abu Abdullah, said that the future of Idlib would be within the sphere of Turkish influence, after the completion of observation points in Hama and Idlib western countryside and the Coast.
In his opinion, Turkey will conduct operations in Idlib similar to the “Euphrates Shield” area north of Aleppo, and “Olive Branch” in Afrin, on condition that it goes in line with what the military factions operating in the region want.
As for the rumors about the invasion of Idlib, the leader believes that they will not exceed the stage of “psychological war”, to weaken the factions’ resistance and break their will to fight. He noted that “The issue is internationally agreed upon, especially between Russia and Turkey.”
The Colonel in Jaysh al-Izza Haitham Khattab presented a different view when he said that Operation Olive Branch in Afrin had caused a radical change in the Syrian north and formed one piece from the northern Aleppo countryside to Idlib, which reflects the future that Idlib will have to face.
The leader said to Enab Baladi that the future of the North can only be envisaged within the framework of political solutions only and under external influence, especially on the part of Turkey, which will be the main player to unite militants and factions altogether.
Economic passageways that may redraw the borders
In the vicinity of Idlib, the Syrian regime has recently demarcated the border with the opposition in exchange for giving way to crossings through which goods, food, basic materials, which are neither subject to inspection, nor to any of the customs laws in force between countries, enter. However, they are subject to the laws of al-Assad forces and the opposition factions ‘ barriers, after being neutralized from major military operations and agreed upon “implicitly” between the two sides.
Three border crossings have connected Idlib with the regime held areas, namely Abu Dali village in the north-eastern Hama countryside, which is controlled by pro-regime clans headed by the People’s Council member Sheikh Ahmed Darwish, and can be described as a “Free Zone” filled with goods which benefit the various forces on the ground; in addition to a crossing in Halfaya, north-west of Hama, in front of Mahradah town under the regime control, and Qalaat al-Madiq crossing.
These crossings continued to exist as a result of an agreement between the two parties with no official decision; however, on April 18, al-Watan newspaper, close to the regime, quoted the General Command of the Customs Authority, Brigadier General Asif Alloush, as he confirmed the re-establishment of the customs control of the governorates of Idlib to monitor the transport of grain and control the smugglers’ entry points from and to areas that it controls in Syria.
Alloush said that preparations are under way for the return of Idlib customs office to work during the next phase. Its work is distributed among areas, most notably, Abu al-Duhur and Abu Omar, as a step to control the passages used by smugglers to bring smuggled goods and materials.
The announcement of the return of the customs office to work may be an introduction to the transformation of these crossings into political border points which separate Idlib and its countryside from the rest of Syria.
Refugees and displaced … civilians’ fate is at stake
At a time when there are fears of a military move that may affect Idlib province, the concern of UN organizations and international human rights organizations is clearly evident about the fate of nearly three million Idlib residents, including refugees and forcibly displaced people distributed throughout several camps and shelters in the province.
Until early this year, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated 2.65 million people in Idlib province, including 1.16 million internally displaced persons, some of whom were displaced by military operations which affected their areas, and others were forced to under the settlement agreements of forced displacement to Idlib.
In a report released last January, the United Nations warned of the displacement of more than 200,000 people between 15 December 2018 and 16 January 2018, as well as 6,700 families displaced from conflict areas in the southern Idlib countryside, north-east of Hama, and the southern Aleppo countryside, to the safest areas in Idlib villages and cities and to the camps of the province.
The United Nations figures sounded the alarm bell when the United Nations warned of the deteriorating situation of at least 1.73 million Syrians who live in north-western Syria (Idlib), and classified them as needing immediate humanitarian assistance.
The United Nations noted the difficulties that relief organizations face in reaching needy persons in Idlib and called on parties of the conflict to facilitate the access of humanitarian assistance to them.
According to Enab Baladi correspondent, a number of displaced people lived in the roads in the city of Idlib because of the scarcity of empty houses and their inability to pay for rents, whose prices saw a significant rise in the city after the wave of displacement while others lived in tents, where the rent of the land on which they were set reached $ 100.
A forced destination for the forcibly displaced
As part of the so-called reconciliation agreements supported by Russia between al-Assad regime and the armed opposition, which are called the deportation of the fighters and their families, the civilians found themselves forced to leave their cities and towns after years of siege, to find that the exit with convoys of displaced people is the best available solution to avoid security pursuits and harassment.
The city of Homs witnessed the first agreement of this kind in May 2014, when its inhabitants went to the northern countryside of Homs and Idlib, followed by Darayya in August 2016, and then several towns in Damascus countryside, in October 2016, when their residents went to the city of Idlib.
The eastern Aleppo neighborhoods were included under the “Evacuation of Cities” agreements, in December 2016, and the year 2017 witnessed the displacement of the people of Homs al-Waer, in addition to the “Five-city” agreement.
As for the eastern Ghouta and areas south of Damascus, the last of these agreements was concluded, when more than 47 thousand civilians and military men arrived from Damascus and its countryside in the past days to the north of Syria, under evacuation agreements imposed by Russia and the Syrian regime.
These conventions raised international public opinion when international human rights organizations considered forced displacement of civilians “crimes against humanity”.
Amnesty International said in a report issued at the end of last year that “The Syrian government’s reliance on local agreements has become one of its main strategies to force the opposition to surrender.”
It said that “The government and its allies are presenting these agreements as efforts to reconcile, but the reality is that they come after an extended illegal blockade and bombardments.”
“These agreements do not only lead to the displacement of militants but also to the mass displacement of civilians through green buses that have become a symbol of defeat and dispossession,” Amnesty said.
Chronology of Idlib phases since 2015
Idlib, one of the first provinces to participate in the Syrian revolution, has gone through several phases since the revolution.
March 23, 2015: Jaysh al-Fatah, which is composed of several factions affiliated with the opposition, announces a military operation in the city of Idlib to liberate it.
March 20, 2015: Jaysh al-Fatah declares control over the city of Idlib.
September 9, 2015: The opposition controls the Abu al-Duhur Military Airbase, and emphasizes the control of the entire Idlib countryside and city.
October 24, 2015: The beginning of withdrawals from Jaysh al-Fatah led to its disintegration.
January 4, 2016: Formation of a civil administrative council in the city of Idlib
January 28, 2017: Formation of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham of five factions, most notably “Fatah al-Sham” (al-Nusra Front previously).
June 2017: A dispute between “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” and “Ahrar al-Sham movement” turned into a battle that lasted for months.
September 15, 2017: Agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran on the establishment of a “de-escalation” zone in Idlib province.
September 17, 2017: Turkish army forces begin to enter Idlib to install observation sites.
November 2, 2017: Formation of the “Salvation Government” in northern Syria.
January 2018: Progress of al-Assad forces in Idlib eastern countryside.
January 20, 2018: al-Assad forces take control over Abu al-Duhur Military Airbase.
February 20, 2018: Internal fighting between the Syrian Liberation Front and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.