Fri 06 Dec 2019

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Jisr Al-Shughour: The City Which Syrian Regime Wants To Subjugate

A volunteer of the Syrian Civil Defense/White Helmets hospitalizing a child injured in an air attack on Jisr al-Shughour, rural Idlib – July 2019 (Syrian Civil Defense)

A volunteer of the Syrian Civil Defense/White Helmets hospitalizing a child injured in an air attack on Jisr al-Shughour, rural Idlib – July 2019 (Syrian Civil Defense)

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Down the coastal mountains, to the east, and on the international highway connecting the city of Aleppo, Syria’s economic capital, with Latakia on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, the city of Jisr al-Shughour is located, administratively affiliated to Idlib province.   

The city’s strategic location is believed to be a curse on the population it hosts, for it was the reason the city became a target for the air raids of the Syrian warplanes and their allied Russian attackers and helicopters, causing the death of hundreds of its residents and the displacement of thousand others, while homes and infrastructure were leveled to the ground.

On April 25, 2015, the Syrian opposition armed groups took over Jisr al-Shughour, where several factions, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Nusra Front, Jaysh al-Islam, Ansar al-Sham and Ansar al-Din Front, among others, embarked on a military operation they called the “Battle of Triumph.” Starting from the operation’s date to the present time, the regime’s warplanes and the Russian aircraft never separated with the city’s airspace in a constant attempt at subjugating it, following the Assad Forces’ repeated failure at progress by land.

The control of Jisr al-Shughour by the opposition armed groups, back then, lacked similarity with other happenings that Idlib bore witness to, for taking a hold of it was a big blow to Assad forces, catalyzed by its strategic location and  its being one of the main cities which entitle the side in control of it to dominate wide areas in western rural Hama, western rural Idlib and the northern parts of Latakia’s countryside. In addition to this, the city is considered the key to the opposition-held Idlib province, if not its gate, which is the source of threats to the coastal area and the Russian Khmeimim Air Base.

Throughout the past four years, Assad forces attempted to advance towards the city, the last of their efforts is represented by the current military campaign, starting in February 2019 from several axes, including the front in the al-Kabanah village, northern rural Latakia, which the forces failed to invade, being Jisr al-Shughour’s first and principal line of defense.

 

Start of Militarization in Syria

The city of Jisr al-Shughour witnessed the onset of the Syrian Revolution’s militarization, which broke out in 2011. On June 5 of the same year, military formations attacked a detachment affiliated with the Military Security Service in the city, killing 120 personnel, reacting to murders committed by the detachment against protestors in several Syrian areas during the first a few months of the revolution.

The detachment’s incident triggered the Syrian regime to initiate a large-scale military operation in Idlib province, within the context of which the Minister of Interior, under the government of the Syrian regime, Mohammad Ibrahim al-Sha’ar said that “the government will act resolutely according to the law,”  following the detachment’s incident.

“We will not remain silent about any armed attack, aiming at homeland’s security and that of the citizens,” al-Sha’ar added to the official Syrian TV back then.

The city, as a result, suffered waves of displacement, where people chose escaping to safer areas, scared of the arbitrary detentions by the security branches and extrajudicial killings, which Assad forces implemented against the people who protested the Syrian regime at the beginning of the revolution. The waves of displacement occurred repeatedly in the past years due to the never-ceasing aerial and missile shelling that targeted the majority of its residential neighborhoods.

 

 “Afflicted” City

The population of Jisr al-Shughour amounted to 50 thousand persons as indicated by 2010 statistics; it was held by the Syrian regime late in the first year of the revolution, to be regained by the opposition factions in April 2015 after a series of battle’s led to the latter’s control over the province.

Civil sources from the area told Enab Baladi that 50% of the city’s population has fled the area; others are planning to escape it, driven by the ongoing Russian assaults.

On July 12, 2019, Jisr al-Shughour was declared an “afflicted” city by the local council.

In a statement, the local council elucidated that the raids conducted by the Russian warplanes against the city have caused massive destruction to both private and public properties, as well as its infrastructure. The aerial bombardment has also targeted the city’s only hospital, rendering it out of service while civilians fled to more secure areas in massive batches.

The city was hit 20 times by the Syrian regime’s and Russian warplanes, in addition to dozens of missiles, displacing, as a result, over 35 thousand civilians to the northern countryside and the al- Wasttani Mountain, Ismail Hassnaowi, Director of the Jisr al-Shughour Local Council, informed Enab Baladi.

Only five thousand civilians are yet in the city, who are in need of everything imaginable amidst the absence of Humanitarian organizations in Jisr al-Shughour, Hassnaowi added.

 

On Banks of al-Assi

The city has been bestowed its current name for the following two reasons; the word Jisr, which is the Arabic word for bridge, in a gesture to the stone bridge over the Assi/ Orontes river that was the only route to the ancient village called al-Shughour once upon a time.

Al-Shughour, however, refers to an old village by the same name, located to the north-western part of the current city. The word al-Shughour is, one narration recounts, is a modern derivation from the original name al-Thughour/gaps, indicating its location as a border area which raised the residents’ concern over the infiltration of enemies to their city. In another narrative, the city has been named after a castle in the area, known as the al-Shughr, positioned in the north-western part of the city.

Jisr al-Shughour was among the first cities to join protests against the Syrian regime in March 2011; its streets and neighborhoods were a set to large-scale demonstrations in June of the same year, which the security forces faced with bullets and killings.

On the part of the opposition factions, operating in Northern Syria, the city’s importance lies in its being the major frontline defending Idlib province and the threshold to northern rural Latakia, not to mention its location on Aleppo-Latakia International Highway, which Russia and Turkey were planning to reopen for civilians and commercial flow, under the “Sochi” deal, signed in September 2018.

Assad forces ability to control the city, on the other side, will help them overcome the threats jeopardizing the Syrian coast and the military bases stationed there, on top of which is the Khmeimim Air Base.

Two months into its control by the opposition armed groups, Bashar al-Assad, head of the Syrian regime, said that his forces will get it back, adding that “it is a war that we are [fighting]; it is not a single battle, but tens of them. In wars, everything changes, except for the belief in the fighter, and the fighter’s belief in the inevitability of victory.”

Back then, the Secretary-General of the Lebanese Hezbollah party Hassan Nasrallah, on his turn, has implicitly admitted the al-Assad’s loss of Idlib and Jisr al-Shughour, calling it a “drawback”, without a hint at or promising to regain the area, lying in parallel to Latakia’s mountains.

The city is today held by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and the Turkistan Islamic Party and many of its families incubate houses there, being close to the military fronts where it functions in western rural Idlib, as far as the northern countryside of Latakia.

 

When the Tiger Was Left Wounded

When addressing the city of Jisr al-Shughour, there must be an indication to Suheil al-Hassan, a Brigadier General in Assad Forces, dubbed the “Tiger,” whose name went viral during the battles he fought against the opposition factions to take over the city and the National Hospital, located on its outskirts.

Al-Hassan, known for being close to the Head of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad and Russia, was the commander of the military operation aiming at regaining the Jisr al-Shughour Hospital.

In April 2015, he appeared in a video, in which he complained about the shortage on munition, which led him to withdraw his forces from the area.

The Syrian regime turned the battle of regaining the hospital, in the north-western parts of the city, into a priority, in an attempt to raise the morale of the Syrian populace following a series of military defeats, including the loss of Idlib city in March 2015.

In May 2015, the Jisr al-Shughour city, located near the Turkish borders, was taken over by the opposition factions, when the militants of the opposition and the al-Nusra Front raided the city’s hospital, where 150 Assad forces’ personnel fortified.

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