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Terrorist groups occupying the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib continue to launch attacks against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in what appears to be an attempt to sabotage efforts by Russia to restore ties between Damascus and Ankara, who maintains a large force in the region.
A new series of attacks began on January 14, when militants from al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the de-facto ruler of Greater Idlib, raided a position of the SAA near the village of Nahshabba in the northern Lattakia countryside.
As in previous attacks, the militants moved in the early morning hours, taking advantage of poor weather conditions and heavy fog which pinned army troops.
HTS claimed that six soldiers were killed as a result of the attack. Nevertheless, pro-government news sources reported three casualties only.
The very next day, January 15, the SAA responded by counducting a rare ground attack in Greater Idlib. Army troops raided a position of Firqat al-Ghuraba, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group that is mainly made up of French and Belgian jihadists, in the mountainous area of al-Zawiya in the southern countryside of Idlib.
A French jihadist identified only as “Abu Hamza” was killed in the attack. The SAA didn’t suffer any losses.
January 18 experienced a serious escalation when militants from al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Tawhid attacked several positions of the SAA near the towns of Maarat Mukhes and al-Bureij in the southern Idlib countryside.
The large attack was repelled by the SAA after hours of heavy clashes. A press released by the Syrian Ministry of Defense said that 12 militants were killed or wounded during the failed attack. Army troops retrieved the dead bodies of two militants.
A day later, January 19, HTS militants raided a position of the SAA near the town of Urum al-Kubrah in the western countryside of Aleppo.
HTS claimed that 12 soldiers were killed or wounded during the raid. Syrian pro-government news sources identified three fatalities only. Three militants were also killed while taking part in the attack.
In an apparent response to the attack, the SAA carried out a series of artillery strikes on positions of HTS in the western Idlib countryside and the northwestern countryside of Hama.
HTS and its allies in Greater Idlib escalated their attacks in December as the Russian-sponsored rapprochement process between Damascus and Ankara began to gain momentum.
The terrorist groups fear that the rapprochement will lead to a Turkish withdrawal from Greater Idlib. This is one of the main demands set by Damascus. Recent reports suggest that Ankara is open to accept at least a partial withdrawal from the region. This would facilitate a new large-scale ground operation by the SAA and its allies.