Late on February 23, the Israeli Air Force conducted a new strike on Damascus claiming that the target was positions of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). The Israeli airstrikes on the Syrian capital coincided with similar strikes on PIJ positions in the Gaza Strip. A few hours earlier, Palestinian forces launched a barrage of rockets at Israeli settlements around the Gaza Strip. The rocket attack came in response to the killing of a PIJ fighter by the Israeli military.
Despite Turkish threats, the Syrian Army continued offensive operations against terrorists in Greater Idlib. During the past 24 hours, government forces took control of the villages of Hantutin, Shekh Damis, Kafr Sajna and Naqir. Some sources link these developments with the possible push to shorten the frontline south of the M4 highway.
As to the Turkish side, it continued paying the price for the Idlib gamble. On February 23, a series of Russian airstrikes targeted the surroundings of the Turkish observation posts near the town of Shir Mughar. Pro-militant sources reported casualties among Turkish personnel and Turkish-backed groups. However, these reports have yet to be confirmed by photo or video evidence.
A day earlier, on February 22, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced that one of its soldiers was killed by Syrian Army artillery strikes. According to the Turkish side, Ankara targeted 21 positions of Syrian forces in response.
On February 21, the Syrian media released footage showing intense Russian and Syrian strikes on Turkish forces during the February 20 battle for the village of Nayrab, which turned into a disaster for Ankara’s forces. The video clearly shows strikes on four M60 Sabra MK II tanks of the Turkish Armed Forces, as well as several vehicles, including ACV-15 and M113 armored personnel carriers, some of which may have been operated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other militant groups. These videos, contrary to Turkish twitter victory announcements, are a real confirmation of the Syrian actions. It also casts doubts as to the Turkish claims that only 2 soldiers were killed and 5 others were injured in the incident.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the US State Department, Morgan Ortagus condemned the resumption of civilian flights from Aleppo calling them “blood flights” and describing the move as “shameless”. US top officials live in its own parallel world and without a shadow of doubt are blocking efforts to restore the peaceful life in the war-torn country on the highest level.
As to the peaceful al-Qaeda members at the Turkish table that Ms Ortagus bravely defends on Twitter, she can use her post to propose to the American society a brand new humanitarian idea – to resettle tens of thousands of members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Turkistan Islamic Party and other al-Qaeda groups from Idlib to Washington.
That way, the peaceful Idlib activists will have an opportunity to build their ISIS-style ‘democracy’ close to their most vocal supporters and do so far away from the constant threats from the brutal Assad regime. The issue is that this move will barely find support among US citizens, most of whom do not share in the delusions and hypocrisy of their top leadership. The Turkish problem with the possible influx of migrants from Idlib is the same double-faced policy. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is wagging his moustache and making loud threats against Syria claiming that his country is concerned with the fate of Idlib people.
In reality, Ankara is quite scared that tens of thousands of battle-hardened and well-armed al-Qaeda members will be fully defeated and flee to Turkey. This will turn the province of Hatay into a new hotbed of al-Qaeda in the region and will quickly become a critical security threat to the Turkish state. Aknara has played a major role in funding, training and arming these groups and their supporters. For years, Turkey has been conducting diplomatic, economic, military and clandestine efforts to undermine Syrian statehood. Now, Turkey is reaping the consequences of this behavior. It has already deployed up to 7,000 troops and over 3,000 pieces of military equipment in Idlib, suffered direct casualties from the confrontation with the Syrian Army and the cost of this effort is growing. Therefore a full-scale military operation against Syria is unlikely at this time with the currently deployed forces.
So, Ankara apparently wants to keep control over Idlib city and its surroundings in order to prevent the migration of al-Qaeda from the area. However, the terrorist threat will not disappear if Erdogan and his inner circle do not change their approach towards the issue. The terrorists should be neutralized, prosecuted and, if they resist to these actions, eliminated. Iran and Russia repeatedly proposed to Turkey to carry out joint actions in the Idlib area in order to put an end to the al-Qaeda presence there and carry out an independent enquiry of all terror-related incidents. Nonetheless, any such enquiry will further destroy the myth about the so-called freedom fighters and point at states supporting terrorism in Idlib. So, the Erdogan government remains cornered between its ambitions and their consenquences.