Radical militants are massing in the southern part of Idlib’s demilitarized zone under the leadership of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the former branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, head of the Russian Centre for Syrian Reconciliation, Maj. Gen. Viktor Kupchishin, revealed during a press conference on May 4.
“According to information available at this point groups of militants under the command of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham have been building up strength near Latamna and Kafer-Zaita in the south of the de-escalation zone Idlib over the past few days,” the Russian news agency, TASS, quoted Kupchishin as saying.
Maj. Gen. Kupchishin added that this strike force could soon launch a large-scale attack on the government-held part of Hama.
The Russian commander also warned that the situation in the demilitarized zone is getting worse. According to him, militants are still launching attacks on civilian areas around Idlib.
“As it was stated earlier, the air base Hmeimim and also Syrian government forces in Latakia province were repeatedly attacked lately from the militants’ positions in the areas of Qalaat al-Mudiq and Bab Atiqa in the western part of the mentioned zone with the use of multiple rocket launchers and drones. From the southern part of the de-escalation zone Idlib militants repeatedly mount fire attacks on the positions of government troops in Mahardah and Skelbia,” Kupchishin said.
Last week, Russian and Syrian warplanes resumed their airstrikes on militants’ positions in southern Idlib and northern Hama in response to the repeated attacks. Dozens of airstrikes are being carried out every day.
Despite these airstrikes, Idlib militants appear to be determined to escalate the situation further. This could force Moscow and Damascus to launch a military operation around the northern governorate. Pro-government sources have claimed that such an operation is now being prepared.