Under Watch of Guarantor States, Russia Escalates Hostilities in Idlib
In the past two weeks, Russia has intensified attacks on Idlib governorate, which synced to launching the first Turkish Army patrol in the buffer zone, agreed upon in last September, amidst international and UN concerns over a further deterioration of the and the potential collapse of the deal conducted by Russia and Turkey about the “de-escalation” in Northern Syria.
On September 17, 2018, Turkey and Russia reached a deal, providing for the establishment of a demilitarized zone, including heavy arsenal, between the Syrian regime’s control areas and those held by the opposition, located 15km deep in Idlib and 20km in al-Ghab Plain, western Hama.
Russian Escalation and Turkish Silence
In a development, the first of its kind in two months, the raids reached as far as the center of the governorate, targeting the vicinity of the Idlib Central Prison on March 14.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has admitted conducting an aerial raid against a Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/HTS post in the city of Idlib, saying that it was coordinated with Turkey. However, the latter did not comment, while Hulusi Akar, the Turkish minister of defense, announced working with Russia to establish a joint coordination center in Idlib, as reported by the Turkish Ministry of Defense’s website.
The Turkish minister considers that the new agreement is to make action in Idlib clearer, pointing out to the two sides’ agreement to start a joint operation center in Idlib.
The Russian Ministry of Defense attributed the raids on Idlib to information it managed to obtain from different channels, which it did not name, that militants of “al-Nusra Front” have earlier on brought a massive number of fighter drones to the targeted post, which they plan to deploy in attacks on the Russian Khmeimim Air Base, as reported by the Ministry.
In the morning, following the raid, Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, again said that Moscow had information, indicating that HTS militants are planning for a chemical attack in Idlib, as quoted by Sputnik, a Russian news agency.
“What triggers grave concern is the new reports, which say that HTS’ militants, helped by the White Helmets, are staging for new false-flag attacks, deploying poisonous substances, to later own blame the usage of chemical weapons on the governmental forces,” Zakharova added.
Last Friday, Turkey started running the first of its patrols in Idlib’s demilitarized zone, according to the “Sochi” deal with Russia, as stated by Akar said: “Today, Russia will begin patrols in the border area outside of Idlib while Turkish Armed Forces patrols will start in the demilitarized zone,” adding that “maintaining the cease-fire in Idlib is a significant step for securing stability in Syria.”
Against the background of the Russian Shelling, on Saturday, António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, considered that the ceasefire in Idlib is a necessary step, saying: “Counter-terrorism operations cannot override responsibilities to protect civilians.”
In a statement published on the UN’s website, he added: “Innocent civilians, the majority of them women and children, have paid the highest price in this conflict because of the blatant disregard for International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law.”
Last Friday, the U.S. demanded that Russia stop the shelling immediately and held it accountable for the attacks on Idlib.
“The United States views with grave concern escalating violence in recent days in Idlib and neighboring areas prompted by Russian and Assad regime airstrikes and artillery,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said.
“Despite Russia’s claims to be targeting terrorists, these operations have caused dozens of civilian casualties and have targeted first responders as they attempt to save lives on the ground,” he added.
“These abhorrent attacks on civilian infrastructure and on settlements for internally displaced people must end now.”
The shelling of the city of Idlib, the governorate’s center, with several aerial raids, last Wednesday, resulted in the death of 15 civilians and the injury of 49 others in four raids that targeted the residential neighborhoods at the city center, as documented by the Syrian Civil Defense.
In a census published by the Response Coordinators Team, published on Saturday, March 16, no less than 89 areas have been targeted by the Syrian regime’s attacks during its military campaign that covered areas in north-western Syria and the demilitarized zone.
The published statistics reported that the regime’s forces have targeted 39 points in Idlib governorate, 34 others in Hama governorate, 16 points in Aleppo governorate between the 8th and 15th of March.
The team added that the number of people displaced from the demilitarized zone and other areas due to the shelling has risen to 17 thousand and 467 families, 110 thousand and 393 persons, while the displacement waves are expected to continue.