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Idlib action signals an endgame to the conflict

Russia’s military said that it had agreed with Turkey to open two crossing points in the Idlib de-escalation zone in Syria and one near Aleppo.  This could be a precursor to opening humanitarian corridors to allow civilians and aid organizations to leave ahead of heavy battles.

Published: November 4, 2021, 8:44 am

    By taking control of Jabal Al-Zawiya, Russian and Syrian forces could surround all the terrorist positions in Idlib. Russia would achieve its immediate goals in Idlib and continue to pressure Turkey. The civilian population in the hilly areas has left well ahead of recent escalations and this prevents a mass exodus of refugees crossing into Turkey.

    A risk remains of a Russian-Syrian clash with Turkish forces when the major military operation begins.

    On October 27, Turkey sent hundreds of more troops into northern Syria in preparation for a long-suspended offensive against American-backed Kurdish forces after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled he was planning a new campaign after many attacks by Kurdish YPG forces.

    Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday ratified a motion extending authorization to launch cross-border anti-terrorist operations in northern Iraq and Syria for two more years.  Both Turkey and the US are illegally occupying Syria with military forces.

    Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate, is consolidating its control over Idlib, and its leader is Abu Mohamed al-Jolani.

    HTS fought with the terrorists of Jund al-Sham, who are led by Muslim al-Shishani, after which he and his 70 militants, agreed on a ceasefire with HTS. However, al-Shishani’s decision did not stop the bloodshed and fighting in the Jabal al-Turkman area in the north of Latakia continues. Intense battles happened between HTS and Jund Allah, a group of Azerbaijani terrorists led by Abu Fatima al-Turki.

    HTS, classified as international terrorists, had already fought Ikhwat al-Manhaj, another terrorist group, in an attempt to solely dominate areas of the northwest of Syria.

    All of these groups protect wanted persons for criminal cases, rapists, and thieves who steal from the civilians of the area.

    Last Sunday evening, HTS sent five military columns, armed with heavy weapons and medium machine guns, to Jabal al-Turkman in the countryside of Lattakia, and to the vicinity of the city of Jisr al-Shughur, west of Idlib province, to fight other terrorist groups to establish the domination of the area.

    Jolani tried re-branding HTS to transition from a wanted terrorist to a western supported political leader in Idlib. In July, he said he was seeking a new relationship with the west and gave several interviews with western journalists which supported later papers and policy briefings advising Western governments to reverse their designation (HTS) as a terrorist organization, and his terrorist label bestowed by the US in 2013.

    Jolani and HTS stand accused of human rights violations, including indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, torture, and arbitrary arrests of civilians.

    In 2017, Jolani said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the only way a minority group in Syria could be spared slaughter would be by renouncing their religion.

    HTS is protected by Turkey, while Russia and Syria target them under the rules of engagement calling for the elimination of terrorist groups in Syria. HTS has dreams of emerging from the battlefield as a political party able to sit at the negotiating table in the final political solution for Syria called for by the US and UN.

    Russia continues to insist on drawing a line between terrorists and moderate opposition groups, and the safety of the M4 highway.

    The 2020 Moscow agreement, which is an annex to the Sochi Agreement of 2018, gives Russia the option of targeting terrorists in Idlib. The Russia-Turkish agreement stipulates that the armed opposition groups maintain a six-kilometer distance from both sides of the highway.  Turkey has prevented the implementation of the agreement they signed.

    The Arab world has begun restoring relations with the Syrian government, and the US and the EU have dropped their support of the Syrian opposition groups.

    The US-Russia dialogue has developed, and Syria is likely to benefit from a deal to shut down the Syrian conflict.

    120 US Democratic lawmakers voted on a draft resolution calling for the withdrawal of US forces from Syria. The draft resolution did not get the necessary votes, but the Democratic wing recognise the American public’s disdain for ‘regime change’ wars.

    Idlib falls within a de-escalation zone forged under an agreement between Turkey and Russia.  In 2019, Ankara stopped a planned attack following separate cease-fire agreements with the US and Russia. Turkey accuses both countries of not fulfilling their promises to force the YPG to withdraw at least 30 kilometers from the Turkish border.

    Turkey has suffered from a 30-year terror campaign by the PKK, which is a listed terror organization by the US and the EU.  The YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK and is a branch of the SDF, which are partners with the US in northeast Syria.

    Turkish forces have shelled positions in Nubel and al-Zahraa towns in the northern countryside of Aleppo, where some shells hit civilians’ houses, such as the home of Rida al-Basha, the Al Mayadeen reporter in Aleppo.

    On October 22, tens of residents protested in Tel Rifaat city, condemning and expressing their anger against Turkey’s threats to launch a military operation on the city.

    The Arab world has begun restoring relations with the Syrian government, and the US and the EU have dropped the Syrian opposition groups.

    Active diplomacy on the Syrian issue with regional and international stakeholders indicates that the conflict has become the focus of the international arena and Russia portrays Syria as a terror issue to be dealt with. The US-Russia dialogue has developed into an understanding in Syria. The two superpowers will likely reach a deal to shut down the Syrian conflict.

    Steven Sahiounie

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