Sat 18 Aug 2018

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Two Methods Manifest Turkey’s Presence in Idlib Governorate

A Turkish military convoy enters rural Hama to fix the ninth monitoring point – May 7. 2018 (Enab Baladi)

A Turkish military convoy enters rural Hama to fix the ninth monitoring point – May 7. 2018 (Enab Baladi)

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Turkey is completing the steps it started in Idlib Governorate, the steps mark tow tracks or directions; the first is through the installation of the monitoring points, agreed upon under the “de-escalation” agreement resulting from Astana talks. The second is organizing the military structure of the factions, active in the governorate, without approaching any of the Islamist factions, on top of which is “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS).

To the day, the Turkish army has fixed ten monitoring points in Idlib and the adjacent rural parts of Aleppo, the last of which was located in the “strategic” al-Rashideen area that is considered within the Aleppo city’s western borders; the monitoring points’ installation was accompanied by reconnaissance patrols of Idlib’s western flank, starting from al-Ghab Plain and reaching the outskirts of the northern countryside of Lattakia.

Despite the spread of the monitoring points and the military movements, the Russian air raids persisted, targeting, basically, southern Idlib and the western areas, near the Turkish border lines; which lead to a question about to what extent Assad’s and Russia’s efforts can be curbed by the agreement that included the area.

Would Idlib’s Map be Fixed in the West?

Since the beginning of 2018, the Turkish monitoring points were spread at the eastern borders of “Idlib enclave” alone, regardless of the enclave’s western borders, which triggered questions about the reasons that limited the monitoring points to the eastern parts alone. At the same time, pro-regime networks exchanged talks about the mobilized military troops in the Jourin camp, which are being preparade to launch a military campaign against several areas, including al-Bab and Jisr al-Shughur.

However, in the current phase, the matters seem to have changed, after the entry of Turkish delegations to the area’s in the western countryside of Idlib to conduct reconnaissance tasks, as a step to study the area before installing a new monitoring point in it.

The delegations, in the past a few days, have toured throughout the areas at the Turkish borders from the side of Jisr al-Shughur; they examined the city’s countryside, the al-Akrad mountain and the northern countryside of Lattakia.

Late in January, Moscow and Ankara have agreed to accelerate the installation of the monitoring points in Idlib governorate, under the “de-escalation” agreement they signed in October 2017.

In a former interview Ibrahim al-Idlibi, a military consultant in the “Free Army,” said that Idlib and its countryside’s map was drawn by the installation of the Turkish points, adding that “we can say that the war has entirely ended between the revolutionaries and Assad’s forces in the area.”

According to al-Idlibi, “preliminary, Russia is committed with Iran and the Syrian regime to the area located in the east of the railway,” pointing out to moving Turkish- Iranian- Russian patrols, which have control over the Aleppo-Damascus international highway, providing that the area under the Turkish influence is to expand from Jarabulus, passing through the western rural parts of Idlib and arriving at the points that have been concentrated in the coast.

A Military Structure Under Application

In correspondence to the completion of the monitoring points’ installation, Idlib awaits the birth of a new military formation, of the “Free Army,” with a major support from Turkey, according to what military sources have told Enab Baladi.

The sources added that the Turkey-backed formation includes the “Free Army” factions of the north, on top of which are “Idlib’s Free Army,” “Jaysh al-Izza,” “Jaysh al-Nasr” and “1st Coastal Division,” in addition to “al-Sham Legion” which heads the formation and has entered the new military coalition after massive pressure.

In the past a few months, Turkey has provided military and logistic support to the factions that have lately joined the “Repel the Invaders” Operation Room, according to the sources, the factions have received the Turkish support one time only, pointing out that the new formation excludes the “Syrian Liberation Front” and “Tahrir al-Sham”.

Last February, Enab Baladi received information, saying that Turkey is drawing a new military structure for Idlib’s factions, similar to the “Euphrates Shield” areas, in northern Aleppo.

Three military sources, back then, have told Enab Baladi that the “Free Army” factions that are functioning in Idlib have received funding from the Turkish government as a substitute for the American financing, as a step to form a new “National Army” after the spread of the Turkish monitoring points.

The sources added that the funding has covered 11 military factions that have lately joined the “Repel the Invaders” operation room, such as “Ahrar al-Sham,” and excluded other factions, including “Tahrir al-Sham.”

Unrelenting Shelling

Despite the Turkish movements, the Russian air raids continue to, thus, form the spikiest file in Idlib’s daily landscape; for the past two month, the raids have focused on the towns and villages of the southern countryside of Idlib, which killed dozens of civilians, the last of whom was in the town of Maarzita, which the local council declared as a “disaster city,” following the displacement of half of its population.

The Syrian regime admits the air raids through which it targets Idlib; however, it attributes them to the presence of “al-Nusra Front,” that joined “Tahrir al-Sham.”

Under international humanitarian law, civilians under the control of “hostile forces” must be treated humanely in all circumstances and without any adverse distinction.

It stated that the parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants, directing attacks only to combatants and should not be directed at civilians. According to Enab Baladi’s reporter in Idlib and its countryside, Russian aircraft are targeting the southern countryside of Idlib with high-explosive missiles that are resonating  in most of Idlib’s areas.

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