Russian Delegation Meets Assad Amid Major Syrian Army Advances

It has been week of extraordinary military developments in Syria coupled with high-level diplomatic Russian-Syrian meetings, as well as heated Turkish warnings and American threats to stop the Syrian army’s current sweeping advances in provincial Idlib. The senior Russian delegation which arrived in Damascus Monday, and immediately met with Syrian president Bashar al Assad, was headed by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin. It consisted of high-level security, military and diplomatic officials including Russian president’s special envoy for Syrian settlement, Alexander Lavrentiev. On Assad’s side sat General Ali Mamlouk, Chief of National Security, along with the Foreign Ministry’s Under Secretary and a number of officials. The delegation discussed the situation in Syria and a means to push for a political settlement.

Guns Or Diplomacy? The Battle For Idlib

In a statement released on Monday Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that the Syrian president and his team discussed ongoing military operations and efforts to eliminate remaining terrorists in Syria, mainly in Idlib and Aleppo. They also discussed problems and obstacles hindering the process of a political settlement to the conflict. “The meeting focused on the situation in and around Syria, efforts to ensure a lasting stability, elimination of remaining terrorists’ nests, as well as on measures regarding a comprehensive humanitarian assistance to all those who need it in Syria, as well as the promotion and encouragement  of voluntary and safe return of refugees⁠ – from neighboring countries⁠ – and those who were internally displaced,” the ministry said.

“Apart from that, the two sides also discussed the process of the United Nations-backed political settlement undertaken by Syrians themselves, including the work of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva,” the ministry maintained. The two sides were also reported to have discussed this week’s visit to Damascus by UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pederson where they discussed how to make his visit fruitful and successful. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, met with Pederson in Moscow to discuss the Syrian peace process.

Turkey’s Role In Negotiations

Parallel to the intensive Russian political and military involvement in recent developments in Syria, came a series of warnings by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US president Donald Trump following the sweeping advances made by the SAA in Idlib this week. Although the elite Republican Guard units operating in Aleppo’s western suburbs, and the newly-formed 25th Counter Terrorism Division operating across the Idlib theater have made significant advances over the past few days, liberating dozens of towns, villages, governing hilltops as well as a large chunk of the strategic M5  highway, the most important development has been the SAA’s recapture of Maarat al Numan⁠—the largest provincial city in Idlib’s southern parts. 

Anti-Government Rebels And Foreign Terrorists Lose Strategic City

Losing Maarat al Numan was definitely a crucial blow to HTS (Hay’at Tahrir ash Sham), formerly known as al Nusra⁠ – the Syrian offshoot of an al Qaeda terrorist organization⁠ – and other affiliated terror groups fighting in Idlib. The city – with a population of over 370,000 before the conflict broke out in 2011⁠ – is located in a strategic place for control of Hama, Idlib and Aleppo, and had been out of government control for some 6 years. Maarat al Numan is bang on the M5 main land transportation and commuting artery linking Aleppo and Damascus and is widely renowned for one of the greatest poets and philosophical figures in Arabian culture and Arabic literature, Abu al Alaa al Maari (973 -1057 AD). Al Nusra terrorists beheaded his statue in the city’s main square, and also chopped off the head of a monumental statue representing local hero and national figure, Ibrahim Hananou, who led the Idlib revolt against colonial France. Hananou was a key figure in the Great Syrian Revolution which broke out in 1925, and led to the country’s independence from France in 1946.

Syrian Army Nears Saraqib

From Maarat al Numan, advancing Syrian army units, spearheaded by the elite ‘Tiger Forces’, moved north along the M5 highway, crushing al Nusra, Uighur, Uzbek and other TIP terrorists. The Tigers are now less than 3 miles away from the strategic city of Saraqib, which straddles both the M5 and M4 linking Aleppo with Latakia on the Mediterranean. SAA units are expected to enter and capture the city in the near future, thus edging much closer to Sarmeen and Idlib city itself. Despite recent threats and warnings made by both the US and Turkish presidents, the Syrian army appears to be unstoppable as it forges ahead with its unwavering campaign to uproot terror bases in Idlib and Aleppo.