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The north of Syria is in expectation of hostilities flaring up. All sides are waiting for the others to make a first step and open the way for an escalation throughout.
On October 25th, all sides continued concentrating and regrouping their forces, positioning them in northern Syria, in preparation for the upcoming escalation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that the Turkish military is ready to use heavy weapons against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib if necessary.
Over the last few weeks, the Turkish military deployed large reinforcements and established two new positions in Greater Idlib. The region is under control by Turkish-backed militants, and they frequently violate a ceasefire agreed between Moscow and Ankara back in 2020.
Erdogan’s threats are clearly aimed to deter the SAA and its Russian and Iranian allies, from initiating a large-scale ground operation in the region.
The Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) renewed their airstrikes on Greater Idlib, targeting underground positions in the outskirts of the towns of Kansafra and al-Bara in the al-Zawiya Mount on October 23rd. All of the towns are known strongholds of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the de-facto ruler of Greater Idlib.
On October 24th, the VKS targeted the town of Jisr al-Shughur, an infamous stronghold of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Turkistan Islamic Party and HTS.
Meanwhile, Turkey is preparing its own ground operation in northeastern Syria. The SAA deployed reinforcements in Northeastern Syria in order to deter the operation, or at least to provide an adequate defensive posture. Ankara is fighting against the Kurdish groups in the region, and its actions harm the civilian population greatly.
Despite any local opposition, and a wave of civilian protests in Tel Rifaat against Turkish military actions, preparations are undergoing.
On October 21, a Turkish TAI Anka-S combat drone was spotted over the town of Kobane in Syria’s northeastern region. This took place a single day after a Turkish drone strike on the town resulted in 5 deaths, two of which were members of the Kurdish US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
On October 23, a new Turkish drone strike targeted a car that was moving in the outskirts of Kobane, on a highway linking the town with the government-held city of Aleppo. According to reports, three civilians were killed.
Turkey is likely attempting to provoke the SDF, which responded to similar drone strikes in August. Ankara is looking for any sort of justification that it can use to explain its incoming operation, and such “brief escalations” in violence are expected in the coming days.
If the Turkish Armed Forces and allied factions go over the top, it is highly likely that the SAA and SDF, alongside other Kurdish groups will unite against the common adversary, and the outcome of the fight may be surprising.
At the best of times, northeastern Syria has a tense calm between the SAA and the Kurdish groups, which are hesitant of entirely coming under Damascus’ control. A development in which Ankara begins yet another large-scale operation in the region could be the impetus that Bashar al-Assad’s government needs to consolidate power, if it is able to effectively counter Turkey’s push.
The week beginning on October 25th, may just be the time when Middle East Pandora’s box is opened, once again.