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Last Days of Action, What Future Lies Ahead of the Syrian Governorate of Idlib?

“Jaysh al-Nasr” faction’s personal positioned at the military fronts in the eastern countryside of Hama – December 14, 2017 (Enab Baladi)

“Jaysh al-Nasr” faction’s personal positioned at the military fronts in the eastern countryside of Hama – December 14, 2017 (Enab Baladi)

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The international diplomacy gets into action at a time where Syria is witnessing the regime’s and its allies’ preparations to launch an offensive against Idlib governorate, through the mobilization of military reinforcement on a daily basis, which are met by the opposition and the military factions’ preparedness to indulge in the defense of the last city under their control. 

In a Moscow-hosted meeting, attended by the Turkish and Russian ministers of foreign affairs and defense, as well as the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, triggered by Turkey’s efforts, the Russian counterpart presented specific suggestions as to resolve the situation in Idlib.

The suggestions took a somehow clear shape when the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu talked with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in a press conference on August 24, saying that “the neutralization of the terrorist extremist groups in Idlib is of a great importance to both states and the entire region.”

 

Çavuşoğlu warned that “attacking Idlib, as a whole, would cause a disaster and the death of millions of people,” stressing that it’s crucial to “eliminate Russia’s concerns and to refrain from threatening its military bases in Syria.”

This statement can be seen as an indicator to a Turkish-Russian agreement, to a certain extent, in terms of carrying out and attack on “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS), as they both classify the faction as a “terrorist” group, without Turkey’s approval of a massive offensive against Idlib, a refusal alluded to by the Turkish Minster’s phrase “Idlib as a whole,” while he warned against the disaster.

 

From another stand point, suggestions of these type comply with the Russian plan for the refugees’ return, which might be crippled by a large wave of displacement or the death of a large number of civilians.

 

In this context, retired Syrian brigadier-general Ali Maqsoud told “Sputnik” Agency, on Wednesday, August 22, that on the ground course of Idlib’s battle will be specific and sufficient to arrive at a resolution, through targeting the commanders of the former “al-Nusra Front,” currently known as “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS).

 

Maqsoud also said that the rest of Idlib’s areas will follow the reconciliation and legalization agreement’s scheme, similar to what happened in other Syrian areas such as Eastern Ghouta, Daraa and rural Homs, which reflect the Syrian regime’s vision of the anticipated battle.

 

Mobilization and International Escalation

Driven by mutual accusations of chemical attacks being prepared and corresponding warnings of the repercussions of using chemical weapons in Idlib, the interaction’s tone between the different sides to the conflict takes a high pitch in sync to the military movements.

On Saturday, August 25, the National Security Advisor of the United States John R. Bolton, declared, as quoted by “Bloomberg News,” an American outlet, his country’s readiness to launch a new attack against Syria, a lot stronger that that launched after Duma, Eastern Ghouta, was targeted with poison gases.

 

Shortly after the statements of the U.S. Advisor, the Russian Ministry of Defense said that a United States’ destroyer has reached the Gulf, while grenade launchers at the Qatari U.S. base “B1B” are ready to attack targets in Syria, following the Russian Ministry of Defense’s reception of indirect confirmation that America and its allies are getting ready to launch a new attack on Syria, as stated by the Ministry.

 

Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, has replayed by warning U.S. and its allies of undertaking any “reckless” new step in Syria, as he put it.

 

As quoted by “Sputnik” Agency, Ryabkov believes that the west is trying with all possible means to come up with new pretext as to propose the issue of changing the regime and the authority in Damascus once more.

 

On Tuesday, August 21, the U.S., France and UK have warned the Syrian regime against using chemical weapons, in a joint statement issued by the Security Council on the fifth anniversary of the chemical attack that targeted Ghouta, Eastern Damascus.

 

These threats came against the background of the mobilization of Assad’s forces to the outskirts of Idlib governorate, north-western Syria, with the intention to regain control over it. On August 22, the next day, “Sputnik” Agency hastened in directing an accusation against the Civil Defense (White Helmets) of transporting a load of barrels containing chlorine, in addition to “al-Nusra Front’s” delivery of loads of chemical materials to the “Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria.”

The Russian Agency alleged that a “new chemical play” is being staged, after accusing the Civil Defense and the opposition factions of Eastern Ghouta of staging the chemical attack that targeted the city of Duma.

 

In an indicative incident, three fighter Russian ships, “frigates,” crossed the Turkish Bosporus Strait for the first time in two years, heading towards Tartus port, where the only Russian naval military base is located in the Mediterranean Sea, as reported by the “Bosporus Observatory” on “Twitter.”

 

Idlib in the Face of the Russian “Propaganda”

Under a clearly defined “propaganda,” the Syrian regime and its allies, the Russian media included, seek to broadcast daily footage of military reinforcement, captioned as on the way to start Idlib’s battle, in a repeated scene that preceded the battles in both Daraa and Eastern Ghouta.

 

Changes in the regime’s media marketing while preparing to launch a battel became clear with the Russian forces taking the command of the military operations, aiming to recapture opposition-held areas, during a third stage of the Russian military intervention.

 

The first stage of the Russian scheme focused on launching intensified military attacks, forcing the opposition factions to sign ceasefire deals, and then retrieve the areas held by the “Islamic State” (ISIS), as a second stage.

 

In the frame of its media and psychological war, Russia, with every reconciliation agreement that a Syrian area witnessed, resorted to sending the opposition’s troops, regardless of their different political and dogmatic differences, to Idlib, aiming to turn the area into a field where different ideologies could fight, as a part of the psychological war that Moscow is producing.

 

Via the “Russian Reconciliations Center,” Hmeimim, which played a major role in reaching “legalization” agreements in the opposition areas in central and Southern Syria, the Syrian regime and Russia sought to broadcast news about the reconciliations, through which they created a state of lack of confidence and enhanced the spirit of defeat, which, in turn, led to a further state of loss and chaos, especially with the falling of the opposition-held areas one after the other.

 

However, this “propaganda” was shocked with a different reality in Idlib, despite the confrontations suffered by the governorate every now and then.

 

The “National Front for Liberation” and “Tahrir al-Sham” took proactive steps, prior to any undertakings on the part of Assad’s forces, for they have arrested the facilitators of reconciliations with the regime in Idlib and its surrounding, under a military campaign that led to the detention of hundreds of personalities, involved in advancing the reconciliations.

In addition to this, the statements of all the military factions, no matter how different they are in terms of ideology and dogma upon which their fighting is based, have all stressed on the efforts seeking to combat this psychological war.

The military factions in Idlib governorate have been enhancing their defense lines to resist the attack, publishing glimpses of digging trenches and erecting mounds.

 

In sync with the Russian-Turkish meeting organized as to discuss the “complicated” situation in Idlib and to come up with a solution and a political settlement, the “National Front for Liberation” demanded a state of readiness and called for mobilization, stressing that the regime’s and its allied militias’ threats must be taken seriously.

 

 “Legalization of Status” Factions to Idlib

Based on the psychological war it initiated, the Syrian regime has indulged the fighters of the different Syrian areas that have signed “legalization of status” agreements in the battles of Idlib.

The Syrian regime has transported 400 troops of the “legalization” factions in the northern countryside of Homs to the surrounding of Idlib, to participate in the anticipated military operation against the opposition factions.

 

On Saturday, August 25, Enab Baladi’s reporter in the northern countryside of Homs, said that the troops are joining the “al-Tawhid Brigade,” and were transported under the supervision of the “Tiger Forces” to al-Ghab Plain, in the western countryside of Hama, in the past a few days.

 

The reporter explained that dozens of the troops are preparing to exit towards Idlib to participate in the battles of Assad’s forces, pointing out to shifts that the troops are making, in addition to changing the personal every other day.

 

Assad’s forces declared complete control over the northern countryside of Homs and the southern countryside of Hama on May 16, following the departure of the last wave of the areas’ civilians towards Idlib, under the evacuation agreement that Russia imposed.

 

The northern countryside of Homs’ reconciliation agreement provided for enhancing security and stability in the cities and villages of the area.

In addition to turning “al-Tawhid Brigade,” which has lately signed a legalization agreement with the Syrian regime and Russian, into  local police, the task of which is keeping the security of the area and supervising the international highway.

 

The agreement highlighted an “important” point, relating to the Brigades commitment to fight terrorism (ISIS and HTS) when needed.

 

Assad’s forces and allied militias continue to bring in military reinforcement to the surrounding of Idlib, especially to the northern countryside of Lattakia and Jisr al-Shugur.

 

The reporter quoted an informed source that 200 of “al-Tawhid Brigade” personal are expected to be taken to Idlib’s surrounding in the upcoming days.

 

In addition to the legalization factions of rural Homs, the “Fifth Regiment,” part of Assad’s forces, is preparing to transport groups that have lately joined it in Southern Syria. Enab Baladi’s reporter in Daraa, quoting former opposition troops, who are now functioning under the “Regiment,” said that names are being registered, of those who want to go to Idlib.

 

Ahmad al-Audeh, a former commander of the “Free Army,” is now leading the “Fifth Regiment” formations in Southern Syria, the affairs of which Russia directly runs.

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