Damascus Prepares to Storm Idlib as patience with Turkey runs thin

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DAMASCUS – July 5, 2019 – Russian and Syrian aviation over the past three days (July 2-4) have dealt one of the most powerful series of strikes against the positions of Islamist militants in the Idlib and Hama provinces since the launch of the initiative of Russia and Turkey in the north-west last September. the demilitarized zone. Already on the first day of intensive bombing, the underground base of the pro-Turkish group “Jaish al-Nukb”, part of the National Liberation Front (NFL), was destroyed in the caves near the village of Madaya.

On July 3-4, attacks were made on the rear infrastructure of the Islamist alliance Hayat Tahrir ash-Sham (HTS, the leading role in which is played by the terrorist group Dzhebhat Fath ash-Sham, formerly Dzhebhat al-Nusra) and the pro-Turkish Nfo. Rocket-bombing attacks were carried out on militant targets in Khan Sheikhun, Kafr Nebel, Habit, Kafr Zita, Lathamna, Hass, Maar Tahrom, Kensafra, Kharam, Abidin, Rakaya and Kafr Sajna.

Military experts note that on 3-4 July, airstrikes and artillery shelling on the NFO created by Turkey were carried out significantly more than before. At the same time, not less than half of the sorties of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Air Forces of the SAR had to be carried out by pro-Turkish militants, although they control a smaller part of the rear zone (most of them are controlled by the HTS terrorists). Pro-government Syrian sources called this a “strong signal” to Turkey.

On the eve of July 4, a meeting of representatives of the Syrian and Russian command was held. They discussed the situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone and the actions of Turkey, which has not taken steps to reduce tensions in the north-west of the SAR.

Recently, the Turkish military and intelligence have moved to an open supply of Islamist militants with weapons, ammunition and intelligence. In the last week, three large columns of trucks and armored vehicles from Turkey came to the Turkish observation post of Shair Mager in the demilitarized zone.

Probably, at this meeting, joint actions were also discussed in the event of new intensification of hostilities in the area of ​​Kafr Nabudy and Huayza (northern Hama province). The Syrian army is planning an offensive in the Jebel Zawiya region to completely secure the Al-Gab valley. Turkey and militant Islamist groups, in turn, are also preparing counter-offensive operations, trying to push the government forces away from the administrative border of Idlib province. In such a situation, the intensification of battles in the region in the coming days seems inevitable.

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Units of the Turkish Armed Forces on June 28 struck a massive blow to the troops of Bashar al-Assad , as claimed by the Turkish military command, who had shot at one of the observation points in the de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria several hours before. As a result of mortar and artillery shelling of observation post number 10 of the Turkish armed forces in the Zawieh region in the south of Idlib province, one Turkish soldier was killed, three were injured. The Turkish Ministry of Defense reported that the military attache of Russia in Ankara, summoned to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Turkey, was informed about the incident.

The originality of this “challenge”, among other things, was that there was a “hot line” between the military departments of Russia and Turkey, through which there is a rather active exchange of information with the theater of operations. Apparently, in such a diplomatic demarche, Ankara decided to emphasize the unacceptability of the shelling of the Turkish military and bring its concerns to Moscow, from which the Turkish leadership demands to “finally act” on Damascus.

According to the Astana and Sochi agreements, respectively, on the creation of the Idlib de-escalation zone and the demilitarized zone in the “big Idlib” (Idlib and Hama provinces, parts of Aleppo and Lattakia regions), the Turkish armed forces created observation posts at 12 points along the inner perimeter of the de-escalation zone.

Since the end of June, Syrian government troops have been preparing a large-scale offensive operation on the border between Idlib and Hama provinces. It is intended to strike at Islamist militants east of the cities of Kernaz and Kafr Nabuda. Local sources report a significant concentration of forces in the area of ​​the town of Mharda, the village of Braidige (western suburb of Kernaz) and directly under Kafr-Nabuda (northern Hama province). The most likely targets of the offensive will be the capture of the city of Habit and the storming of the nearby Tel-Sakhr heights, from which militants of the Islamist Alliance HTS and the Jaysh al-Izz group constantly bombard Kafr-Nabudu and Kernaz.

Meanwhile, the offensive is constantly postponed. Perhaps because of several failures of the Syrian army on other sectors of the fronts in the Idlib area, where as a result of a series of raids by Islamist militants in the last weeks, dozens of soldiers were killed. It is also not excluded that the latest actions of Ankara made their own adjustments to the joint plans of Moscow and Damascus to reject the enemy from the extended contact line in the north-west of the SAR. Since the beginning of July, the Turkish army has significantly tightened its contingent around the perimeter of the de-escalation zone, redeploying additional armored vehicles and special forces units to “observation posts”.

For the breakdown of the Astana and Sochi agreements, it is the Turkish side that bears the main responsibility. Ankara has pledged to withdraw all the “irreconcilable” groups of Islamist militants from these zones in the Idlib area, but could not provide this. Moreover, terrorist groups have established almost complete control in the Idlib area (according to the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, over 95% of all areas of greater Idlib are under the control of the HTS and other terrorist formations), concluding an alliance with the “Liberation Front” supported by Turkey , as well as receiving from the Turkish territory a permanent supply of weapons and munitions.

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