In the past a few days, the landscape in Idlib governorate became more complicated, for the deal, signed by Russia and Turkey at “Sochi” about the area, is yet suspended, a case enhanced by the violations committed by the Syrian regime, through the constant artillery and missile shelling on the opposition held areas, triggering several questions about the governorate’s fate, as it witnesses both internal and external military action.
The external action took the shape of the military reinforcement brought in by Assad’s forces to the fronts at northern rural Hama and northern rural Latakia, which pro-regime news networks reported as a step to launch a military operation in response to the attacks announced by the “jihadists” formations, functioning under the “And Exhort the Believers” operation room.
As for the external action, Idlib has also been a stage for military movement, however, of a different type, conducted by the “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS), which also brought in reinforcements and forces to the vicinity of the Maarrat al-Nu’man city, rural Idlib, and the Darat Izzat won, rural Aleppo, in what sounds like a step to spread its control over the rest of the Damascus-Aleppo International Highway, covered by the terms of the “Sochi” deal, which provide for reopening it late this year.
The Shelling is Daily
Since the “Sochi” deal was signed, last September, the Assad’s forces did not stop targeting the opposition held areas, and they focused on the towns and villages at the eastern and southern rural parts of Idlib governorate, on top of which the Jarjnaz village, from where more than 70% of the population is displaced and which the Local Council declared as an “afflicted” area.
Despite being a key party to the “Sochi” deal, Russia made no move to prevent the Syrian regime, but rather it supported it through the threats it directed at the opposition factions that it will be responding to the attacks undertaken by those it described as “terrorists.”
“Our response will be cruel, but it will stick to the context of the deal signed at Sochi,” a Russian Official said in a statement to the Russian Interfax news agency on November 28.
In parallel with the shelling, pro-regime news networks reported the arrival of military reinforcements in the northern rural Latakia as to start a battle against the opposition factions.
On Friday, November 30, the pro-regime al-Masdar website, (the Source), reported that the “4th Division” has received orders to re-spread in the northern countryside of Latakia governorate to lead a new military operation in the upcoming days, the target of which is the areas controlled by the “Tahrir al-Sham” and the “Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria”.
The website posted images of Gayath Dala, a leader of the “4th Division,” upon his arrival to rural Latakia, adding that the military operation is decided to target the “strategic” Kabani village, located at a mountain’s top and considered one of the key strongholds of the opposition factions.
The opposition factions in Idlib governorate, for their part, continue to announce troops’ graduation from training their training camps. In addition to this, the “Tahrir al-Sham” started conducting maneuvers with heavy and medium weapons.
In a former interview with Enab Baladi, a source from the “Free Army” said that the graduation of the new batches on the part of the opposition factions signals the continuing preparation for potential military operations by the Syrian regime.
“Tahrir al-Sham’s” Eyes Are on the International Highway
Away from the Syrian regime’s fronts, the areas surrounding the Damascus-Aleppo International Highway, which passes through Idlib governorate, are witnessing a state of military alarm, triggered by “Tahrir al-Sham,” as it brought military reinforcements to the vicinity of Maarrat al-Nu’man city and the Darat Izzat town, western rural Aleppo.
“Tahrir al-Sham” is seeking to complete its control over the International Highway, by directing its focus to the city of Maarrat al-Nu’man, south-western rural Idlib, being the only area out of its control in the surrounding of the Highway, a source from the “Free Army” told Enab Baladi.
The source, on the condition of anonymity, added that forces have been mobilized by “Tahrir al-Sham” in the past a few days to the surrounding of Maarrat al-Nu’man and Darat Izza town, western rural Aleppo, which derived a reaction of the same nature on the part of “Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya” and “Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement”.
“The observation and reconnaissance units, as well as the security divisions have spotted Tahrir al-Sham bringing in reinforcements to the area, which necessitated undertaking the suitable procedures and preparations for any emergency,” said Mohammad Adib, a member of the Media Office of the “National Front for Liberation”.
He added, telling Enab Baladi that “according to the National Front’s experience, the movements linked to Tahrir al-Sham indicate preparations for an attack or a suspicious action.”
Turkey Addresses Idlib’s People
In sync with the Assad’s forces bombardment and the internal military movements in Idlib on the part of the opposition factions, the Turkish observation points, spreading in Idlib, addressed the area’s civilians in a speech, in which they provided reassurances concerning the “Sochi” deal, signed with Russia.
The speech, which Enab Baladi managed to get a copy of from one of the “Free Army” leaders who attended a meeting with Turkish officers at the Shair al-Maghar observation point, rural Hama, stated the following: “The Turkish people and the Turkish army are always beside you. And your safety and that of your belongings is crucial to Turkey.”
“The creation of a demilitarized zone will spare Idlib any form of attacks or military operations; it will also inspire the ability at avoiding risks or the start of confrontations within Idlib. And any contrary allegations are a call to division and sowing strife,” Turkey stated in the speech.
The leader, an official at a checkpoint for the protection of a Turkish observation point and with whom Enab Baladi spoke, said that the Turkish officers at the observation point requested that the speech be rapidly and widely spread as to reach all Idlib’s people.
According to the speech, Turkey said: “There will be those who will attempt to deceive you and sow discord among the brothers […]. Do not believe those seeking to spread lies and rumors and launch abusive campaigns.”
“Thanks to your efforts in support of the implementation of the deal, the prevention of confrontations and stop the bloodshed, tranquility and stability will reign the area,” Turkey added.
All the previous developments indicate that “Sochi” deal is yet threatened to collapse, for while the Turkish side is attempting to meet its promises of the implementing the terms before the end of 2018, the Syrian regime seeks to reshuffle the cards, depending, to do this, on the Russian attitude that has not changed towards the opposition since its military intervention in 2015 to the day.
Idlib governorate’s status, thus future, might be clearer during the upcoming summit which the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke of, to bring him together with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, at the “G20” summit, supposed to discuss what has been already implemented and the obstacles hindering the deal, the “hardliner” groups in particular.