Wed 12 Dec 2018

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Shelling and Attacks: Idlib’s Deal at the Verge of Collapse  

Troops of the “Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS) at the fronts with the Syrian regime in the surrounding of Idlib governorate – (Tahrir al-Sham)

Troops of the “Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS) at the fronts with the Syrian regime in the surrounding of Idlib governorate – (Tahrir al-Sham)

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Idlib governorate’s “Sochi” deal is now at the verge of collapse, triggered by the continuance shelling and attacks conducted by the Assad’s forces and allied militias against the opposition factions, the last of which was the attack against one of the “Jaysh al-Izza” (Army of Glory) posts in rural Hama, where 23 troops died, and others got injured.

The attack was a “major strike” to the faction at a private level and to the opposition factions in general, depicting a full image of the Syrian regime’s refusal of the Russian-Turkish deal and a catalyst necessitating military rearrangements apart from the terms agreed upon and the application mechanisms which have not clarified so far.

A few hours after the “Jaysh al-Izza” incident, the “Tahrir al-Sham” announced the death of troops of both Assad and Russian forces in a “quality” operation that targeted one of their positions in the surrounding of the Halfaya city, northern rural Hama, accompanied with threats from the factions of the “Free Army” and calls for preparations for an upcoming battle.

Of the top statements was that of Jaber Ali Bash, leader of the “Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya,” who said: “All are demanded to prepare the best for a resolute awaited battel, to take place sooner of later.”

Now that It Is Excluded, Iran Hinders the Deal

The remarkable thing about the attack that targeted the “Jaysh al-Izza” was that Iranian forces stood behind it, according to what the faction’s spokesperson, Mustafa Maarati has told Enab Baladi.

Maarati explained that members of the Iranian “Revolutionary Guard” and Assad’s forces sneaked to the “Jaysh al-Izza” post at the al-Zalaqiat front and killed 19 personnel with modern snipers with night vision, pointing out that the death of six troops of the “Revolutionary Guard” and the injury of other ten was confirmed. In addition to this, control over the post was regained.

Omar Huthayfa, the general sharia advisor of the “al-Sham Legion”, believes that the calm witnessed by Idlib in the past period under the “de-escalation” agreement appeared neither to the regime nor Iran, for they have been both excluded of the negotiation sessions, which annoyed them and made them feel that they would not be part of the decision making process at the negotiation table in the next  phase.

He told Enab Baladi that Iran feels that its role in Syria has ended, so it is trying to disturb the situation and trigger chaos, adding that its repeated violations here and there are only to mix the cards and spur the battles anew, “at a time where the opposition factions are combating it, which they have the right to.”

Still there is no evidence that it was only Iran that conducted the attack, taking into consideration the on-ground indicators, for the attack was preceded by intensive flying by the Russian reconnaissance aircraft above the demilitarized area, especially above the city of the al-Lataminah and the areas surrounding it.

Mustafa Bakour, leader of “Jaysh al-Izza,” confirmed this by saying that the attack was undertaken under a Russian auspice by Iranian and Syrian regime’s forces, spreading in northern rural Hama in different positions, most prominently the city of Halfaya and near the city of Murak.

Would the Deal be Terminated?

While the shelling and the tension between the Syrian regime and the opposition continue in Idlib governorate, the eyes are on the Turkish side, which to the day has showed no response to the violations. It was only Russia which talked about the violations of the deal’s term by the opposition factions, not mentioning the Syrian regime.

In his last statement about the “Sochi” deal, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that that his state did not observe any problems in Idlib governorate since the signing of the deal with the Russian side, adding “we have not had any problems in Idlib since the Sochi deal was signed, for the area is witnessing stability and calm.”

The sharia advisor of the “al-Sham Legion” explained that the affairs in relation to the upcoming phase in Idlib are ambiguous, saying: “We cannot remain silent about the violations and the foolishness committed by al-Assad and his allies, and they shall be answered with all we can.”

“The Turks would not prevent that; actually, they were clear in more than one statement that we have the right of reply in response to any violations which the criminal regime might commit, in addition to taking it on themselves and standing by us to combat any attack,” he added.

Huthayfa does not rule out the return of the confrontations and battles “if the regime is to continue with its foolishness and intentional violations.”

A source from the “Free Army,” on the condition of anonymity, has told Enab Baladi that the joint attacks, conducted by the Syrian regime, Iran and “Hezbollah” in Idlib are seeking to force the opposition to strike back, as to say that the opposition is attempting to violate the “Sochi” deal.

The source added that despite all its negative sides, the “Sochi” deal was an opportunity and time out for the opposition to rearrange its political and military cards, pointing out that “the deal’s failure will end with positive results for the opposition, which utilized the past days of calm to form a single unified military body, which is the National Front for Liberation.”

According to the source, the collapse of the deal is not in the interest of the Syrian regime, because the elimination of the deal at the current stage “will lead to a battle and the retreat of the regime as it is unable to defend the northern rural Hama and western rural Idlib.”

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