Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) will open a trade crossing to link the region of Greater Idlib with Syrian government areas, Syrian news sources reported on September 24.
HTS is the de-facto ruler of the Greater Idlib region, which includes a large part of Idlib as well as parts of the northern Lattakia countryside, the northwestern Hama countryside and the western countryside of Aleppo. The Turkish military maintains a large presence in the region.
The new trade crossing will reportedly link HTS-held areas with the government-held town of Saraqib in the southern Idlib countryside.
Work to establish the crossing have already begun. Two bulldozers of HTS were spotted on September 24 removing dirt barriers from the main road leading to Saraqib. At the same time, the group’s explosive experts began removing landmines from the frontline around the town, mainly from the outskirts of the nearby village of Tronba where the crossing will likely be located.
All trade crossing linking Greater Idlib with government areas were closed late in 2019 when the Syrian Arab Army and its allies launched their last large-scale ground operation in the region. The operation ended with a ceasefire on 5 March of 2020. However, all crossing remained close.
HTS made several attempts to open a new trade crossing with government areas over the last two years. Yet, strong oppositions from extremists in the region forced the group to cancel its plans time after time.
While the government recognizes HTS as a terrorists group, it believes in linking all Syria territory is an issue of high importance. Opening a crossing with Greater Idlib would ease the humanitarian suffering of millions of civilians who are still living in the region, where critical materials, like medicine, are on short supply.
HTS, which amassed much influence and power over the last two years, will likely manage to open a crossing with government areas this time. However, it is still unclear if the group will allow civilians, not only goods, to use the crossing. This could enable hundreds of thousands to return to their homes in liberated areas.