Fri 27 Nov 2020

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Will Syrian regime launch new battles in opposition regions?

Members of the "National Front for Liberation (NFL)" during military trainings (Azaaeem)

Members of the "National Front for Liberation (NFL)" during military trainings (Azaaeem)

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Enab Baladi – Ali Darwish

The frontlines between the Syrian regime and the opposition factions in northern Syria have witnessed reinforcements on both sides, which led to tensions in some contact lines, such as Idlib’s southern countryside. These military build-ups raised questions about the possibility of new battles by the Russian ally of the Syrian regime against Turkish influenced regions, as Ankara supports the region’s opposition factions.

Last week, the “Syrian National Army (SNA),” backed by Turkey, reinforced the battlefronts lines with the Syrian regime’s forces, in Aleppo countryside, in anticipation of “all possibilities.”

Some of the SNA’s brigades’ social media identifiers published images that showed military reinforcements heading to combat zones.

The military build-up came after information about Russian intentions to launch a military operation on Aleppo’s countryside, and the two areas of Tell Abyad, north of al-Raqqa province and Ras al-Ayn northwest of al-Hasakah governorate, which are under previous Russian-Turkish agreements, to pressure Turkey, according to what Mustafa Sejari, the head of the political office of the “al-Mu’tasim Division” affiliated to the SNA, published on his “Twitter” account.

Besides, field leaders in the Turkey-backed SNA told Enab Baladi that the regime’s reinforcements had been concentrated on the frontlines of Aleppo countryside, while the opposition’s military situation in Idlib remained the same.

The official spokesperson of the SNA’s “National Front for Liberation (NFL),” Captain Naji Mustafa, told Enab Baladi that there are military movements by the regime’s forces and its militias on some battlefronts.

Mustafa confirmed that the military build-up is raised to the highest level, anticipating all possibilities, especially with the latest movements in some areas under the regime forces’ control near the confrontation lines.

Russia uses Syrian regime’s attacks as “scarecrow” to exert pressure

The Information Unit Manager at “Omran Center” and researcher Nawar Shaban explained to Enab Baladi that Russia uses the regime’s military movements as a pressure card and a “scarecrow” to frighten the other parties.

The Russians have suspended the joint Russian-Turkish patrols on the international highway “M4” that links Aleppo and Lattakia since mid-September due to what the Russians called the “increasing of terrorist attacks.”

The suspension of the joint patrols coincided with the regime’s mobilization of its troops on the frontlines of Jabal al-Zawiya, southern Idlib (south to the M4 highway) in the areas that the regime repeatedly announced its intention to control.

Moreover, the Russians did not participate in the last three patrols on 15 September and the first and 7th of this October, and instead, the patrols were conducted by one side only.

On 4 of last March, Idlib province became subject to the “Moscow” ceasefire agreement signed between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, which provided for the creation of a security corridor on the international highway “M4.”

The agreement included joint Russian-Turkish patrols between Trinbeh village, west of Saraqib city (east of Idlib), and Ain al-Hawr village in western rural Idlib. It also stated that the southern areas of the international highway “M4” would be under Russia’s supervision, including the Jabal al-Zawiya area, parts of the Jisr al-Shughur area, and Ariha town), while the northern part of the highway would be under Turkey’s supervision.

However, the “Syrian Response Coordination Group (SRCG)” documented 2,387 ceasefire violations by the Syrian regime and Russia, since the signing of the agreement until 18 August, as 18 civilians were killed, including five children, until the beginning of last July.

These violations included targeting the opposition areas by artillery and missile bombs, drones, and Russian warplanes in several areas of Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo.

Unprepared logistically, but ready to launch military operations

According to Shaban, the regime is always ready to launch a new land-based military operation on the opposition-controlled areas, because it does not care about its human capacity, represented by regular forces and affiliated militias, nor does it care about equipment.

The regime has often entered losing battles against the opposition, leading to the killing of its elements and destruction of its equipment, but according to Shaban, these operations sometimes do strike the strategies and defenses of the opposition forces.

The researcher added that these battles are only fought by a militarily “stupid” or “naive” command that does not care about the losses that it will suffer.

Shaban indicated that the regime is not ready logistically to enter these battles; however, it enters them and has no problem doing so and tried recently to advance on the axis of Lattakia countryside, but it failed.

According to Shaban, the regime does not care about its readiness to launch a military offensive; it cares about one thing only, which is achieving advancements.

On 3 August, the opposition forces stopped three advancement attempts on Tell al-Haddadah in the so-called Kurd Mountain in the Lattakia countryside. The attack coincided with air raids, artillery shelling, and rocket attacks on the area by the Syrian regime and Russia.

On 9 August, the Turkish army established a military post in the Kurd Mountain, according to a previous talk by a field military commander in the NFL to Enab Baladi.

The attack was preceded by the regime’s military reinforcements to the contact lines of the region.

No trade-offs for Turkey

Turkey has rejected Russia’s request to reduce its military presence in Syria and sent additional military reinforcements. Currently, Turkey is undergoing repairs to “Taftanaz” military airport east of Idlib, making it likely to be a base for the Turkish “unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as “drones.”

According to Shaban, Turkey is ready to defend the region and is unwilling to lose Jabal al-Zawiya, because it is a high area and its loss means that the regime will expose all the Turkish points, threatening the region and its future.

Shaban refused the linkage between the files of Azerbaijan and Idlib, despite the common factor between them, namely the international actors. To Shaban, the two files are different and cannot affect the political process in each.

Shaban explained that when the international parties sit on the negotiation table, they talk about all files. He ruled out that there would be bargaining between Idlib and Azerbaijan files because each file has its local characteristics, and the local characteristics cannot overlap with the other file.

Previously, there was much talk of an exchange between the Tell Rifaat area in Aleppo’s countryside controlled by the “Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)” with the Jisr al-Shughur area in rural Idlib under the oppositions’ control. Nevertheless, this exchange never took place due to different local conditions between the two areas.

The consequences of SDF’s fighting alongside the Syrian regime

The Turkish army, supported by opposition factions, controlled Afrin northwestern Aleppo, Tell Abyad in north al-Hasakah, and Ras al-Ayn to the northwest of al-Hasakah at the expense of the SDF.

The confrontation lines between the areas under the SDF’s control and the SNA witness skirmishes between the two sides from time to time.

In addition, the SNA’s reinforcements included areas of contact with the SDF, fearing that the latter would join the regime in case of a new military operation.

However, Shaban believes that if the SDF fight alongside the regime, it would help accelerate the latter’s defeat, because the Turkish side will use all its power in such a case. Shaban added, as for the battle between the opposition and the regime, it could end with a Russian-Turkish dialog.

Turkey considers the SDF and its backbone, the “Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG),” as “terrorist entities.”

Turkey launched two operations, the “Olive Branch” in Afrin and the “Peace Spring” in the Eastern Euphrates region, to eliminate the YPG’s danger from its borders with Syria.

During the Reyhanli Dam opening in southwestern Turkey, the Turkish president, Erdogan, said on 3 October that his country would continue its military operations in Syria if the promises given to it were not fulfilled.

Erdogan added that “the parties that remain silent towards terrorist organizations and the countries supporting them are setting aside all moral, legal, and rights principles when it comes to Turkey” without naming these parties.

On 7 October, Turkey’s parliament approved a decision to extend sending military forces outside Turkey for an additional year, to eliminate what the parliament has called “potential attacks” on the country by “terrorist organizations” in Iraq and Syria.

Turkish – Russian reassurances

The Turkish president, Erdogan, said in a statement that his country would not accept any step that would cause a new humanitarian tragedy in Idlib. Erdogan added that Turkish forces’ military field presence would continue in Syria until stability is achieved on Turkey’s southern borders with Syria.

While the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the military confrontation between the Syrian regime and the opposition has “ended” and that there is no need for military action on Idlib, in an interview with the “al-Arabiya” news channel. The interview was published by the “Russia today” website on 21 September, in which he spoke of his meeting with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad.

Lavrov pointed out that although Idlib is controlled by the “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS),” this area is being narrowed, as Turkey, based on the Russian-Turkish understandings, “is fighting terrorist groups and separating moderate opposition from them.”

Lavrov expressed his support to these Turkish moves in Idlib.

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