Idlib’s aerial bombing escalate; Russian message to Turkey
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
The number of casualties and injuries is increasing as Russia escalates its aerial bombing of the opposition-held northwestern Syria or the so-called de-escalation zones. Such targeting comes within multiple political scenarios, most notably the pressure on Turkey to accelerate negotiations and rapprochement with the Syrian regime.
The “de-escalation” agreement, which provides for the cessation of military operations in northern Syria, with a guarantee from Turkey and Russia, since May 2017, and the state of political harmony between Turkey and Russia in more than one file.
This coincides with reports confirming a rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus, which is being prepared in the intelligence kitchens of the two countries.
All of this did not satisfy the region or remove the Russian ghost from its skies, regardless of the varying frequency of bombing and the bill of losses it inflicts.
Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Brega told Enab Baladi that the escalation of Russian air strikes coincided with points of contention between Russia and Turkey, giving the impression that Moscow is using Idlib to deliver certain messages to Ankara or to express partial dissatisfaction with Turkish policy on a file.
Brega added that the bet is based on increasing the cost of Ankara’s preservation of these areas in the face of air strikes and constant military pressure.
The Russian expert considers that the Russian policy in dealing with northwestern Syria is based on the scorched-earth strategy, ruling out the Russian aviation setting a mechanism to deal with that region, with the exception of displaying force and hitting the target without looking at the results.
Escalation, disruption of residents’ lives
The Syria Civil Defense team recorded on 10 October the killing of a schoolboy and the wounding of his mother as a result of air strikes accompanied by artillery shelling towards the western countryside of Aleppo and Idlib. On 11 October, these raids also hit a poultry farm in the western countryside of Idlib, which was completely destroyed.
An elderly woman and a man were also wounded on 27 September as Russian warplanes pounded the village of Kalbit, which is crowded with IDP camps in the northern countryside of Idlib, near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey.
At the time, Enab Baladi’s correspondent in the area reported that the warplanes launched four air raids in close proximity to each other near the camps, which caused cases of fainting due to fear and panic, according to the Civil Defense.
The Russian raids on Idlib countryside on 8 September were the deadliest of the month, leaving seven people killed and ten more wounded.
The “White Helmets” stated at the time that the majority of the victims of the bombing were workers in a sawmill in the town of Hafsarja in the western countryside of Idlib, seeking to survive and support their children.
Russian warplanes launched repeated raids on the same areas, in addition to the Russian reconnaissance aircraft flying in the air, which was also the case on 22 August, when Russian fighter jets carried out 13 raids with vacuum missiles on the outskirts of Idlib. No casualties were reported at the time.
The air strikes have shaped the lifestyle of the local residents, which makes displacement a viable option.
On 22 August, the Syrian Response Coordination Group (SRCG) pointed out that more than 700,000 civilians in and around the city of Idlib are “threatened to flee into the unknown” as a result of the air strikes targeting the city’s surroundings.
The local relief group called on all parties to protect civilians from attacks, especially that the area is densely populated and unable to absorb a “silent” displacement movement from the eastern countryside of Idlib and Aleppo countryside.
Bombing continues, for how long?
The military expert, Brig. Gen Abdullah al-Assaad linked the Russian air strikes in northern Syria to pressure on the refugees and displaced persons to accept “compromises” that would bring them back to the regime’s control, pointing to the establishment of a “settlement” center in the city of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib countryside, on 5 September.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, al-Assaad affirmed Moscow’s adherence to its geopolitical gains in Syria, which are considered a powerful card to send messages to Turkey, the US, and Iran.
Al-Assaad also ruled out stopping the Russian raids on the north, pointing out that they continued despite the opening of a new front for the Russians with Ukraine on 24 February and considered that the purpose of the air strikes was to thwart any attempt to stabilize the region.
Analyst Brega also does not think there is a time plan to end the bombing, and it is likely that it will continue until the Syrian file is closed in a way that satisfies Moscow after the agreement with Turkey.
Military analyst Colonel Fayez al-Asmar told Enab Baladi, “I do not imagine that the bombing will stop as long as the matter remains in the hands of the Russians.”
Al-Asmar considered that Moscow’s goal in its explicit military intervention in Syria is to restore all areas outside the regime’s control and to float it on the Arab and international levels.
Regarding the messages that Russia wants to deliver “by air strikes,” al-Asmar explained that Moscow intends to suggest to the residents of the region that there is no guarantor for their security except by returning to the “lap” of the Syrian regime.
“For this reason, the raids are continuous and uninterrupted, and their purpose is to terrorize civilians, even in the camps scattered in Idlib and near the Turkish border,” he added.
Politics will not halt bombing
Despite the intense political movements over the past few months and the strong relations and mutual interests between Moscow and Ankara, the air strikes did not stop, and the Russian aerial assault continued.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Turkey has taken a compromise position, during which it maintained its relationship with European countries on the one hand and Russia on the other, which enabled it to enter into mediation in the name of the Black Sea Initiative last July.
The initiative provided for the removal of grain and food exports from three Ukrainian ports overlooking the Black Sea, with Turkish mediation and UN auspices, which eased the global food crisis and reduced the risks of famine affecting several countries, to which warnings were given before the Russian invasion, which Moscow called a “special operation.”
This experience also opened the door to a Turkish-Russian partnership in gas_ Europeans’ missing paradise_ due to the lack of supplies of the substance from Russia and the tendency of some countries to sell it to Europeans at four times its price.
On 14 October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of work with Russia to build a natural gas center in the Thrace region, northwest of Turkey, days after a Russian proposal to transfer gas supplies that were passing from the Nord Stream through the Baltic, to transport it via the Black Sea to Europe, and to add essential crossings for transporting fuel and gas through Turkey, forming a huge distribution area in Turkey.
Over the past few weeks, voices of Turkish rapprochement with the Syrian regime increased.
On 15 September, Reuters reported that the head of Turkey’s intelligence agency, Hakan Fidan, met with the director of the Syrian regime’s National Security Office, Ali Mamlouk, in the Syrian capital, Damascus, according to a regional source loyal to Damascus.
According to the agency’s citation of four unnamed sources, Fidan has held several meetings with Mamlouk over the past few weeks, which it regarded as an indication of Russian efforts to encourage “breaking the ice” between countries on opposite sides of the Syrian file.
These moves, and talk about the possibility of a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two sides, were followed by successive Turkish statements that reduced the possibility of holding a meeting of this kind, as the Turkish president mentioned more than once, along with other Turkish officials, that the meetings are currently limited to the intelligence domain, and there is no ground for meetings on a higher level, whether for the foreign ministers or for the Turkish president and the head of the Syrian regime, despite Moscow’s push in this direction.
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