Turkish messages to Russia… Street war and US support in Idlib
Enab Baladi – Murad Abdul Jalil
The diplomatic negotiations did not succeed in persuading Russia, the main supporter of the Syrian regime, to abandon the military solution, and move forward towards a political solution through the Constitutional Committee under the auspices of the United Nations. This has been evident by the unprecedented military escalation on Idlib and the countryside of Aleppo.
Russia and the Syrian regime are betting on ending the battle in Idlib with a military solution, which will make it win a political card that will strengthen its position in the event of returning to the negotiation table of the Constitutional Committee, which has become forgotten after the failed round of talks last month.
However, the factions’ surprising attacks that resulted in losses in the regime’s forces during the past three days gave the impression that the battles of advance in Idlib will not be easy as happened in several other areas, especially in light of an American threat to take diplomatic and economic measures against Russia and the regime, along with Turkish threats to withdraw its control over the factions and turning the battles into a hardly-controllable “street war”.
During the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Turkey on January 8, the two parties agreed to cease the fire, stop land and air attacks in Idlib, and to set Sunday morning, January 12, as the date for the start of implementation of the agreement, according to a statement of the Turkish Defense Ministry.
However, Russia broke the agreement and started escalating, which bothered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who confirmed, last Friday, that “what is happening in Idlib Governorate is alarming,” adding that he will discuss the Idlib file with his Russian counterpart during the Berlin Conference on Libya.
The warplanes of the regime forces and Russia launched intensive raids on several areas in Idlib, resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries, especially in the industrial city of Idlib, where the warplanes carried out a massacre of 19 civilians, including two children, in addition to the injury of 68 people, including 19 children and four women, according to figures by the Civil Defense.
The warplanes also started targeting the cities and towns of the western countryside of Aleppo, in an attempt to empty the area of civilians and increase pressure on Turkey by the refugees’ heading towards its borders.
However, Turkey’s statements over the past three days included clear messages to Moscow.
The first message was in a statement by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who said in an interview on CNN TÜRK, on January 15, that “though the (Syrian) regime believes in a military solution, this solution must be stopped. In case the conflict turns into a street war, this war will not end.”
Çavuşoğlu added that the ceasefire agreement will not collapse, but if attacks and violations continue, it will not be possible to talk about a ceasefire, calling on the Syrian factions to protect themselves from the regime’s attacks.
The Turkish minister tried to send a message to Moscow by going to the war option in case the escalation continues, and that Ankara is not responsible for what is happening on the ground, according to the leader of the Free Syrian Army, Abdul Salam Abdul Razzaq.
The leader considered in an interview with Enab Baladi that during the past years, and the agreements they carried in the Astana and Sochi talks, the Russian-Turkish understanding was clear on a Turkish mission, which is to curb the factions and control their movements.
However, Russia has started to feel that it does not need Turkey after restricting the opposition’s activity to one region, and thus it can adopt the military solution to the end. This has made the meetings of the two countries’ presidents without any impact on the ground, and the ceasefire lasted only for hours, according to the leader.
Çavuşoğlu’s words about turning to a street war in Syria constitute a message and an attempt to put pressure on Russia to stop the military campaign and return to the political negotiating table.
“Militarily, the street war is one of the most difficult wars for armies in the world, where the gap between weapons and equipment abilities disappears as the owners of the land always emerge victoriously,” said Abdul-Razzaq. “Street wars might terrify the Russians, especially if these wars approach major cities like Idlib, or if the Aleppo front opens and the rebels are still in its suburbs.”
A military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Enab Baladi that, previously, the fighting factions in Idlib and the countryside of Aleppo started the establishment of closed camps and training courses for fighting within the cities and street wars, last month.
Abdel Razzaq confirmed by saying that the fighting factions have reached a high level of professional courses in street fighting and they are ready at any moment.
This was also preceded by the Turkish president’s persistence on implementing Ankara’s plans in Syria and not reversing its steps.
According to the Anadolu Agency, the Turkish president said on January 8 that “Turkey will stay in Syria until its southern borders are fully secured and it will even progress in Syrian territories.”
American support for Turkey in Idlib
The past few days have witnessed talks about the serious American involvement in the Idlib file, whether on the political or military level, by providing support to the Syrian opposition factions.
In a statement released on January 16, after a meeting with the Turkish presidential spokesman (Ibrahim Kalin) and the US National Security Adviser (Robert O’Brien), Turkey and the United States agreed on the need for commitment to the ceasefire in Idlib.
The US embassy in Syria also considered, on Twitter, the aerial bombing and artillery shelling of civilians, health centers and civilian facilities in Idlib as “a shameful matter condemned by the international community” especially since it came a week after the visit of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to Syria.
The embassy stressed that “the US is ready to take diplomatic and economic measures against al-Assad regime, and any country or individual that supports its barbaric agenda,” in case of continued attacks.
On December 26, 2019, US President Donald Trump warned, through his Twitter account, Russia, the Syrian regime, and Iran against killing thousands of civilians in Idlib.
Trump said that “Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing or intending to kill thousands of innocent civilians in Idlib governorate,” adding that Turkey “is working hard to stop this massacre.”
According to Abdul Razzaq, who believes that there will be clearer and more serious meetings during the coming period, the American position was not only limited to political statements but also went further to direct involvement into the file with direct meetings between representatives of the military factions in the opposition and US officials.
In light of Turkey’s attempt to unify its position with Washington against the Russians with the Syrian file, especially Idlib, military support reached the factions during the past days, according to a military source in the operations room of “al Fateh al-Mubeen.”
The source confirmed that the factions possess the “Tao missiles” (The BGM-71 TOW), about which arrival the media spoke, but they are not allowed to use them. The source equally indicated that there is an American pressure to support the factions militarily through the Ankara Operations Room.
Under the Russian insistence on resolving the battle militarily, and the escalation of the Turkish statements due to American support, the Syrian scene may witness developments that will be followed by dramatic changes in the Idlib file. These changes may be in the form of pressure on the regime and its supporters to enter seriously towards a political solution or a return to the military escalation that may include other cities.
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