Closing in on Idlib; Russian base attacked as Truce Collapses

Joint Russian and Syrian air raids are targeting the strategic al-Nusra Front’s stronghold of Khan Sheikhoon. Following a defiant statement yesterday by al-Nusra leader Abu Muhammad Al Jawlani refusing to oblige by the decisions and agreements reached at the 13th round of Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan capital Nur-Sultan (formerly known as Astana), a few days ago demanding a withdrawal of militants’ heavy and medium arms from the so-called Escalation Reduction Zone. A few hours ago, terror groups operating in the Idlib region targeted the Russian main military base of Hmeimeem near the Mediterranean city of Latakia.

Resumption of Military Operations

A Syrian military communique announced yesterday the resumption of military operations in the region following breaches of the truce by terrorist groups and the failure by the Turkish guarantor to curb armed operations carried out by militants under Turkish control in the area. Five Syrian helicopter gunships shelled terrorist targets earlier today and fortifications in rural Hama and Idlib, some 300 kilometers north of the Syrian capital Damascus.

The Syrian government had agreed to the truce, against prevailing public opposition to truces as they have always been used by terrorists to regroup, rearm and resume attacks. With the hope that a negotiated settlement will avert the unnecessary civilian casualties and exodus that shall almost definitely result from a major military operation.

Russian Base Under Attack, Again.

The rocket attack on Hmeimeem earlier today changed all that. A Syrian military source declared that the rockets that hit the vicinity of the Russian base have caused considerable damage and casualties, details of which are yet to be announced. Russian sophisticated air defense systems in and around the base have foiled numerous previous drone and missile attacks by militants in the nearby Idlib countryside, controlled mainly by al Nusra (Syria version of al Qaeda terror organisation).

Astana 13 Talks

The Syrian army had scored major field advances recapturing the strategic Tal -Milh village and hill along with Hasraya and a number of villages north-west of Hama previously controlled by Jaish al-Izza and al Nusra terrorists, only days prior to the Nur Sultan (Astana 13) talks. The talks were held with the participation of  representatives of the three guarantors;  Turkey, Russia, Iran, the Syrian government  and opposition delegations, Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vasilenko, and for the first time observers from both Lebanon and Iraq were also invited.

A statement issued at the conclusion of talks reaffirmed the parties’ commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty, and underscored that the fight will continue against all kinds of terrorist groups.  The statement also stressed that security and stability in the region can only be achieved by respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.

Saboteurs of Truces

While the three guarantors of the Astana 13 talks, expressed their sorrow and regret over any civilian casualties and pledged to protect them, the three nations underlined their joint efforts to prevent violations of the cease-fire in Idlib, and committed to continue the fight against the presence of ISIS,  Al-Nusra Front and similar terror groups.

The Astana 13 talks were wrapped up amidst modest expectations of a genuine breakthrough regarding Idlib in particular, until al Nusra extremist leader’s belligerent  statement  brought the intricate situation regarding Idlib back to square one.

Truce after truce have collapsed, and one agreement after another have been shattered, due to the intransigence of extremist terrorists since what was supposed to be a crucial landmark meeting in Sochi between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last September.  As part of the Idlib Deal, the two leaders agreed then to set up a a jointly patrolled 20-mile deep demilitarized zone in Idlib, where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

Closing in on Idlib

As the Syrian Army announced the resumption of military operations in Hama and Idlib, the guns are once again retaining the upper hand in deciding the fate of areas still out of government control, mainly in Idlib, north-western rural Hama, and east of the Euphrates River region. There some of the most decisive, costly and ferocious battles are anticipated before terrorism is virtually eradicated in the country.

The fact that al Nusra and its militant partners on the ground have shown no respect whatsoever to any deals or decisions taken by major regional and world powers involved in the Syrian war including those reached and signed by their main supporter, Turkey,  brings into serious questioning the amount of real power that Turkey actually enjoys over hard-line groups, theoretically at least, under its control.

Guns of Liberation

It either boils down to the lack of control over terrorist organisations, or to the lack of political will on the part of some major parties involved in the conflict. Now in its 9th year, to pursue a peaceful end to this catastrophic war, the decision by Syria and its allies to resume military operations with added momentum, point to the way things are developing on the ground.  As the Syrian Army draws nearer and closes in on Idlib, we may soon reach a situation where it might be too late to silence the Guns of Liberation.