Last weekend, the province of Idlib once again turned into the main hot point in Syria.
On November 30, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation and several foreign Jihadi groups, including the Turkistan Islamic Party and Ajnad al-Kavkaz launched a major attack on positions of the Syrian Army in southeastern Idlib.
The advance started with an ambush of an army unit near Tell Dam. 6 soldiers were reportedly killed and 5 others were captured. Then, militants attacked and captured the villages of Sarjah, Ejaz, Rasm al-Ward and Istablat. Pro-militant sources claimed that at least 2 units of army military equipment were destroyed there.
Photos and videos from the ground showed that in many cases terrorists used Turkish-supplied weapons, like HY-12 mortars and HAR-66 anti-tank weapons.
The Syrian Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces responded with intense airstrikes on militants’ columns and facilities, as well as provided close air support to soldiers defending their positions. As always pro-militant sources claimed that airstrikes hit civilian targets only.
On December 1, the Syrian Army launched a counter-attack recapturing Ejaz. Government troops also re-entered Sarjah and several areas around it. The situation is developing.
The recent escalation in southern Idlib may lead to resumption of large-scale hostilities and lead to a new ground offensive of the Syrian Army in the region. Greater Idlib will remain the zone of instability as long as groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its allies operate there. So, this threat should be eliminated.
The National Front for Liberation is a Turkish-backed coalition of militant groups, and a part of the Turkish-controlled fraction known as the Syrian National Army. The Syrian National Army is the main proxy force of Turkey in northeastern Syria. Therefore, the Ankara government bears at least a partial responsibility for hostile actions of its proxies.
At the same time, the situation became relatively stable in northeastern Syria. Over the past days, there have been no intense fighting between Turkish-led forces and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.
On November 30, the Russian Military Police established an observation point in the border town of Amuda in northern al-Hasakah. The point is located in a large building that has been reportedly used by the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units as a military academy.
Under the Turkish-Russian agreement on northeastern Syria, Kurdish units have to be withdrawn from a 30km zone near the Turkish border and the ceasefire has to be established in the area. Russian forces likely create these observation posts to monitor the ceasefire and propel a political dialogue between the Kurdish leadership and the Assad government.