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The  Syrian army and its allies launched their long-awaited major offensive in the province of Idlib last week, gaining over 400 square kilometers including some 46 villages and towns. Their gains include the strategic town of Jarjanaz, a major stronghold for the extremist group “Ajnad al Qawqaz” (Soldiers of the Caucasus) which is allied with Turkey and the al Nusra Front terror organization which controls most of Idlib and its surrounding countryside. SAA advances have been fast and overwhelming, with Syrian army units now stationed only 2.5 miles (4 km) away from the city of Maarat al Nu’man, the largest city in the eastern part of Idlib province with a population of some 250,000.

Turkey Begging Russia To Save Them: Report

With the SAA besieging the second Turkish military post of Surman in the area from all directionsa scenario similar to what happened in Mourek, Hama a few months ago when the Syrian army gained control over vast swathes of land and scores of towns and villagesTurkish army officials are reported to have been flocking to the Russians at their main military base of Hmeimeem in Latakia, pleading for Moscow to mediate with the Syrian army to halt its eminent offensive on the city. This comes amid reports and counter claims of a deal reached that aims to hand the city over to the Syrian army without combat. Thousands of militia fighters are reported to have fled the area having lost hundreds of their hardcore warriors including a number of military commanders over the past few days. The heavy losses were sustained as the Syrian army took over one town after another with an average of four to six villages per day, destroying militants’ strongholds, fortifications, supply lines and morale.

SAA Makes Overwhelming Advance As Rebel Strongholds Collapse

An official communique released by the Syrian Army spokesperson earlier this week confirmed the army had secured over 42 villages, towns and over 320 square kilometers of the Idlib countryside. The gains came after fierce battles between the SAA and terror groups in the area, including al-Nusra (the Syrian version of the al Qaeda terrorist organization) and Ajnad al Qawqaz.The resounding and overwhelming victory has pushed thousands of hard-line fighters back to Idlib’s hinterlands. Idlib is the last remaining city and province ruled by al Nusra and, for over six years now, it has been out of Syrian government control. Militant groups have avoided blame for the humiliating defeat, with some rebel leaders lashing out at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish army for not defending them against the advancing Syrian army and its stifling firepower.

More About Idlib And The Surrounding Region

Idlib and its surrounding rural areas along the Syrian-Turkish borders are estimated to house between 2.5 to 3.5 million, including over 100.000 anti-government fighters comprised of both Syrians and foreign individuals. These militants are affiliated with dozens of splinter extremist groups that have comeby conviction or forceto be under the wings of al Nusra Front which refuses to lay down arms or negotiate with the Assad government in Damascus.

The hard-line and heavily-armed group has also rejected all previous agreements and deals reached between Turkey and Russia regarding buffer or safe zones in the province. Al Nusra has  continued to launch attacks against military as well as civilian and infrastructure targets in state-run areas. Moreover, they have threatened any of their members who lay down arms or negotiate with the Syrian government with summary execution.

Al Nusra’s rejection of all deals as well as disinterest in any political solution in Idlib, has left the Syrian government and its allies with little choice but to take back the province by force. Bearing in mind the devastating humanitarian cost that such a choice might incur, the SAA has opened safe corridors for civilians willing to leave the potential battle zones, butas in similar circumstances in the pastcivilians have been prevented by force from leaving. There are reports that many have even been threatened with the death penalty by al Nusra if they attempt to flee, thus virtually turning them into a human shield against any military offensive in the area.

Battle For Idlib: A Labyrinth Of Complications

The civilian factor has always been the main reason for reluctance and postponement of a major military operation in Idlib. No one needs or wants yet another mass exodus of civilians, and Turkey has made it clear it cannot handle a new deluge of refugees across its borders. More than 2.5 million Syrians are believed to have taken refuge or settled permanently in Turkey. US president Donald Trump also issued a warning to Russia, Iran and Syria against killing of civilians in Idlib, but has done virtually nothing to help end the deadlock in the province or the conflict in Syria as a whole. On the contrary, Trump’s fickle, controversial and biased policies have made a bad situation much worse. His public bragging about plundering Syrian oil and smuggling it to Turkey in a blatant violation of international law, the Geneva Convention and the UN Charter is a case-in-point.

For the time being at least, the Syrian army and its allies seem determined to take matters into their own hands. President Bashar al Assad, with the backing of millions of Syrians, has pledged to restore every inch of Syrian land and wrest it away from any form of occupation, be it Turkish, American or terror organizations. Amid reports that Erdogan and other complacent regimes are trying to transport ISIS and other proxy militias and multinational mercenaries to Libya, Syria’s main concern remains to get rid of the plague of terrorism in their nation once and for allwhether the epidemic now shifts to Libya or another far-away location is the last of their worries.

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