Fierce battles are raging on between the Syrian Army, al Nusra and other terrorist organisations – some 23 extremist groups – in the countryside of Hama and Idlib for weeks now. The balance is quickly tilting in favour of the Syrian army, assisted by round the clock joint air raids by both Russian and Syrian bombers and attack helicopters.
Over 100,000 militants and terrorists from over 83 countries are believed to operate in these areas. While the liberation of Idlib has long been officially deemed as a matter of time by the Syrian leadership, the end of these battles is much easier said than done. There are numerous reasons, complications and considerations which intermingle and interact in a labyrinth of regional and international conflicting politics.
Despite the agreement regarding Idlib between president Vladimir Putin of Russia and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan last January, al Nusra, as well as other terrorist groups, continued to violate the so-called “De-escalation Zone”, and have launched several attacks against both civilian and military targets in the area. With Ankara’s evident failure to control those militant groups and honour its commitments and pledges to Moscow in this regard, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) have moved in.
Battles that started some six weeks ago in North-Western Hama, bordering the southern rural areas of Idlib, have gained momentum in the past few days and weeks. The SAA’s control of the strategic town of Kafr Nabudah, for the second time in one week, reflects the veracity of the fighting; with hundreds having lost their lives in just this little town alone. The SAA destroyed several Turkish armoured personnel carriers in the fighting; Turkey has made desperate efforts to prevent a total defeat of its surrogate insurgents amongst others facing the Syrian army, but to no avail.
There have been two major turning points in the battlefield so far, reinforcing the Army’s grip and reflecting its unwavering resolve to defeat terrorists and uproot them from the region once and for all. The first was the liberation of Kafr Nabudah, from where the SAA elite regiments went on to recapture a number of strongholds in nearby towns, villages, hills and mountains which control the gateway to both Idlib’s southern borders as well as the strategic al Ghab plain.
Al Huwaiz, Al Hamriyyat, Al Shari’a, Bab Al Taqa, Al Karakat, Al Janabra, the strategic Ottoman Hill and Shah Shabo mountain fell to the SAA after ferocious and deadly battles. These battles saw the use of a wide variety of land and air-delivered weaponry, sometimes even reverting to hand-to-hand combat. As a result, the al Nusra Front and other terrorist organisations were expelled from large sections of the area, blaming each other for this humiliating defeat.
The larger stronghold rebel towns of Khan Sheikhoon, Maarrat Al Nu’man, Kfar Zeita, Al Latamneh, and Kafronbul have come under heavy bombardment and air raids targeting mainly arms depot convoys as well as command and control centres. Meanwhile, Syrian intelligence agencies have seized massive caches of arms and explosives, including over five tons of C4 high explosives, camouflaged and hidden by terrorist groups in both the southern and eastern parts of Syria.
The second turning point took place only two days ago, with the SAA recapturing Al Qassabiya, the first such town to be retaken by the Army “within” the administrative borders of Idlib itself. The city and most of its rural areas have been under the control of al Nusra and other rebel groups for over six years now. This was a devastating blow to the morales of terrorists on the ground and their operatives in Syria, the region and beyond. Idlib has long been considered a “red line” not to be crossed, according to many big players including Washington and Ankara.
All evident developments in the battlefield indicate that the SAA’s ongoing campaign is not going to stop soon – at least not before “all” terrorist organisations leave the country, dead or alive.
Others have been using the all-too-familiar chemical weapon factories to exert tough pressure on the Syrian government in order to halt its military onslaught towards Idlib. The White Helmets, many of whom were smuggled through Israel and Jordan from the southern parts of Syria last year as the SAA took control of the region bordering the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan, have been filmed and photographed practicing chemical weapon production, as they did in Duma, Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus last year, and in Khan Al Assal in rural Aleppo a few years earlier. Both cases have now been proven false, even by some western nations and media networks.
“Every single inch of Syrian territory shall be liberated”, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has pledged on several occasions. Al Assad maintains: “Terrorism has no homeland, religion or boundaries. The cost of living with terror is far graver and greater than fighting it, therefore we have made the irreversible decision to fight terrorism to the bitter end.”