On September 14, thousands of people took at streets throughout the northern governorate of Idlib and in several regions around it to protest against the Damascus government and the Russian involvement in the conflict, according to Syrian opposition activists. The cities of Idlib and Maarrat al-Nu’man witnessed the largest rallies.
The protestors in Maarat al-Nu’man raised the flags of the Syrian opposition and Turkey stressing their support to the Turkish state. However, the protestors in Idlib raised the flags of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and al-Qaeda and chanted sectarian slurs while threatening Russia. Masked militants were also seen during the protests.
مظاهرات ادلب اليوم. pic.twitter.com/bO1gyFqFpd
— Fadi Hussein | فادي (@fadihussein8) September 14, 2018
During another protest in the town of Kafr Jales, near Maarat al-Nu’man, Syrian opposition supporters raised a banner with the photo of Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, the Turkish terrorist who assassinated Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov in late 2016.
“With such people we will win … The Turks are our brothers,” the banner reads.
Syrian pro-government activists said that the number of protestors was lower than expected, especially that more than 4 million civilians are supposedly living in Idlib. Druing the early years of the Syrian crisis the opposition justied the low number of protestors by claiming that its supporters fear Syria security forces, which were not present in Idlib today for sure.
Most of these rallies were organized by Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups and local committees linked to these groups. HTS also organized significant rallies in its areas.
A day earlier, the son of Al-Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam, Huthaifa Azzam, called on opposition in Idlib not to raise radical flags during the protests because international journalists will be on the ground.
في مظاهرات الغد يجب الحرص على ألا ترتفع راية سوى راية الثورة فالإعلام العالمي متواجد في الداخل السوري لينقل الفعاليات وسيسعى جاهدا لاقتناص أية مظاهر يمكن أن تصم إدلب بالإرهاب أو تصبغها بصبغة التطرف والغلو
من الحكمة غدا-خاصة على أصحاب تلك الرايات-ألا ترتفع أية راية إلا علم الثورة
— د.حذيفة عبدالله عزام (@AzzamHuthaifa) September 13, 2018
These protest are likely a part of the ongoing Turkish propaganda camping aimed at opposing an expected attack by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies on the remaining militants in northwestern Syria. During the last few weeks, Turkey took several steps to achieve this goal, including boosting its weapons supplies to the militants and even deploying battle tanks south of Idlib.