The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) deployed additional reinforcements around the militant-held governorate of Idlib as a part of ongoing preparations to launch a limited military operation, the Russian news agency, Sputnik, reported on February 16 citing a military source.
“The new SAA’s reinforcements are aimed at fortifying the frontlines in Hama and Idlib and a part of ongoing preparations for a military operation within the demilitarized zone between Hama and Idlib, where several terrorist groups led by the al-Nusra Front [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)] are constantly attacking SAA’s positions and nearby towns and villages,” the source told Sputnik.
The demilitarized zone was established last year under a Russian-Turkish agreement. However, HTS and its allies, especially Jaysh al-Izza and the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), are refusing to comply with the agreement.
The military source said that the upcoming operation, which will include several phases, is mainly aimed at protecting civilians in the government-held parts of northern Hama and southeastern Idlib. Radical militants conduct daily attacks on both areas.
Sputnik’s report contradicts with a recent statement by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in which he said that the new Russian-Turkish agreements on Idlib do not include a military operation.
While a military operation against the militants around Idlib is necessary, it is unclear yet if Russia and its allies are indeed willing to take such step without approval from Turkey.