Una simulazione della battaglia di Idlib organizzata dai jihadisti di Al Nusra (LaPresse)

Idlib, Syria’s looming major battle

(Damascus) With increasing signs of political deadlock among the major players trying to broker a peaceful settlement to the chronic situation in Idlib, there are fresh indications of a military showdown between the Syrian army and its allies versus Al Nusra and other terrorist groups who took control of the city and its countryside more than six years ago.

Tension has escalated even further over the past two days with the deadly attacks by Islamic radical groups in neighbouring Hama rural areas, the worst occuring in Masassneh at dawn on last Sunday. 20 soldiers and 42 terrorists were killed and dozens more were injured in the fierce clashes that lasted for 5 hours. The Syrian army quickly retaliated by shelling the positions and fortifications of the so-called Jaysh al-Izza and another splinter groups, both supported by Turkey, which operate predominantly in the area where the attack on the Syrian army took place.

Despite the scale of those attacks, as well as similar follow up infiltrations and attacks against the Syrian army in the mountains of Latakia, both the Idlib and Latakia regions have long terrorists-laden borders with Turkey, made up of other Turkish-backed militias, mainly the Turkistan army and other Uygur terrorist groups (Chinese Muslims of Turkish origin and affiliation). Last day’s events are viewed as minor skirmishes and distractions from the major and decisive looming battle to retrieve Idlib.

Over 100 thousand hardline radical fighters are believed to be entrenched in the city and its neighbouring areas, in particular some heavily fortified caves and underground command and control centres run by local, regional and international intelligence officers. Numerous video tapes on the net show leaders of those fanatic groups from foreign countries, brandishing their weapons with Turkish flags displayed in the background, with hardly any Syrians among them. They even broadcast their messages and threats in their native tongues, which can range from Russian, to Chinese, Turkish, French and English among others.

Presidents Putin, Rouhani and Erdogan, met at the the Black Sea Resort in the Russian city of Sochi 2 weeks ago, in what was deemed an unsuccessful trilateral summit. The majority of the animosity stemmed from Turkey having not honoured its commitment to contain major terrorist groups in the demilitarised zone as part of its Idlib agreement with Russia. It now seems inevitable that the Syrian army and its allies will have to develop a decisive military operation in order to liberate Idlib and uproot terrorists from remaining rogue areas once and for all.

The Syrian army has been mobilizing massive fire power and overwhelming forces for this mother of all battles, in case a political settlement fails. Preliminary bombing by the Syrian army of terrorists’ camps, storing facilities and fortifications has already started in some areas near to Idlib. Tens of thousands of Anti-government insurgents have been herded towards the governorate of Idlib from various parts of Syria over the past few years, as part of tentative agreements covering several areas around the capital Damascus and southern parts of the country.

Russian and American military commanders in Syria are reported to have met earlier today. What they discussed in this meeting remains unclear, but Idlib and coordination of the area east of the Euphrates prior to a looming major crackdown on terrorists, seems to be an absolute necessity. Avoiding any uncessecary military clashes among the various armies and forces deployed in the country remains a mutual priority. With terrorists and militias dispersed among millions of civilians, no party needs any mistakes or oversights in what already promises to be the most complicated, ferocious and possibly the costliest battle of all.

Over the last two years, the Syrian army has regained control over large areas of the country. With some 80% of the country now back under its control, the government has turned its attention to Idlib. President Bashar Al Assad has vowed to bring all Syrian territory back under state control, inch by inch and at any cost, because this “war of existence is bound to reshape the region as well as the new geopolitical map of the world at large”. This avowal comes despite recurrent threats against Damascus from numerous world leaders, primarily by from the Trump administration, and despite some exaggerated or misleading statements and figures.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently stated after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov regarding Idlib, that “A military solution there would be a disaster”.

“The Turkish Minister, whose regime has been catalyst to the death of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and the displacement of millions, has no right to talk about the misery of Syrians, caused by a war Turkey has been spearheading,” a Syrian official responded.

“We shall liberate Idlib and uproot terrorists, by hook or by crook. We are just waiting for the zero hour to do so,” added a Syrian military commander on high alert at the outskirts of Idlib.